Acta Astronautica, 2009, Vol.65(9), pp.1216-1223
The development of new system capabilities typically depends upon the prior success of advanced technology research and development efforts. These systems developments inevitably face the three major challenges of any project: performance, schedule and budget. Done well, advanced technology programs can substantially reduce the uncertainty in all three of these dimensions of project management. Done poorly, or not at all, and new system developments suffer from cost overruns, schedule delays and the steady erosion of initial performance objectives. It is often critical for senior management to be able to determine which of these two paths is more likely—and to respond accordingly. The challenge for system and technology managers is to be able to make clear, well-documented assessments of technology readiness and risks, and to do so at key points in the life cycle of the program. In the mid 1970s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduced the concept of “technology readiness levels” (TRLs) as a discipline-independent, programmatic figure of merit (FOM) to allow more effective assessment of, and communication regarding the maturity of new technologies. In 1995, the TRL scale was further strengthened by the articulation of the first definitions of each level, along with examples (J. Mankins, Technology readiness levels, A White Paper, NASA, Washington, DC, 1995. ). Since then, TRLs have been embraced by the U.S. Congress’ General Accountability Office (GAO), adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), and are being considered for use by numerous other organizations. Overall, the TRLs have proved to be highly effective in communicating the status of new technologies among sometimes diverse organizations. This paper will review the concept of “technology readiness assessments”, and provide a retrospective on the history of “TRLs” during the past 30 years. The paper will conclude with observations concerning prospective future directions for the important discipline of technology readiness assessments.
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