How Open Is NASA's Open Lunar Architecture?

Keith's note: NASA held a media briefing session today at NASA HQ. The purpose of the briefing was to talk about the various lunar activities NASA is engaged in. Specifically there was discussion by NASA SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen about the science and technology missions that NASA is planning. Next week 12 payloads will be announced as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. 9 companies are cometing to place these payloads on the Moon. Zurbuchen is off on a race to make these things happen much faster than is usually the case at NASA. This means that there will be more risks taken - but with that comes a greater chance to try new things. Indeed, if the program achieves what it aspires to do, there could be payloads on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2019.

These missions will conduct pure science and applied technology. The applied technology is designed to build up capabilities that will be needed when human landings are attempted at the end of the next decade. Among other things locating resources for fuel generation and lunar base construction will be explored.

A Human Lunar Landing System Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) has been issued by NASA. NASA Administrator Bridenstine and HEOMD AA Bill Gerstenmaier described the approach within this BAA as using an "open architecture". Yet when you read the BAA it refers to a "Reference Architecture" that proposers are supposed to base their ideas on - anything outside of that Reference Architecture would be deemed beyond the scope of this BAA. That sounds a bit contradictory. NASA says they want people's ideas - even if they are different than what NASA wants to do yet the procurement vehicle they use seems to preclude that.

The following is my question to Bridenstine and Gerstenmaier - in essence I asked what NASA would do if SpaceX shows up with a proposal and says that they can do everything NASA wants without the need of a Gateway-based architecture:

In essence NASA wants everyone's ideas - even if they may not match up against what this current BAA solicits. They say that will take ideas that do not conform to the BAA's language and consider them (even though the BAA does not mention this). The real question is whether NASA truly wants to use the engines of creativity that a fully open architecture would instill or whether they want to be seen as trying to be open when in fact they still want to impose agency solutions when all is said and done. This is sort of a "closed openness" approach.

Another analogy is to compare the way that Google leaves its Android architecture rather open to outside developers and hardware manufacturers while Apple has adopted a "walled garden" approach where they control the extent of software operations and hardware implementation. Both approaches work - but one is far more "open" than the other.

It might be a good idea for NASA to put out an amendment to this BAA that explicitly states this since simply reading the BAA could leave a proposer with the (apparently incorrect) impression that only ideas that resonate with the official NASA Reference Architecture as presented in the BAA are sought.

But to be honest NASA is trying to do the whole return to the Moon thing much faster than you'd expect. NASA has made flashy proclamations to this effect 4 or 5 times since humans last walked on the Moon. Yet half a century and many false starts later later we have still not put a human on the Moon again. This time NASA is taking more risks than they are used to taking. With that comes the chance to try more new approaches and get back to the Moon faster than might otherwise be the case.

- Human Landing System Broad Agency Announcement Industry Day presentations

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 14, 2019 5:53 PM.

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