Techology Maturation Program:
Frequently Asked Questions



Why a Technology Maturation Program?

American taxpayers spend billions of dollars each year on weather satellites. These satellites are often massive, complex systems that at any given time are a moment away from disaster by an unexpected meteoroid or debris. One satellite can take over 10 years to develop and test, so by the time that satellite is in space, the technology is already outdated.

TMP aims to mitigate these risks by harnessing newer technology to support NOAA’s adoption of newer, smaller, and more efficient satellite technology. For example, TMP will test the capabilities of satellites such as cubesats, to support NOAA’s Earth observation needs. Cubesats are smaller, much less expensive observing systems, which are potentially just as powerful as the larger, complex satellites NOAA currently uses for climate monitoring and weather prediction.

What will TMP do for NOAA's satellite services?

  1. Access Innovations: TMP utilizes innovative technology developed by the program’s partners to suit NOAA’s need for low cost, highly reliable technology. When one of NOAA’s partners, like NASA, develops a new technology, TMP tests and determines whether and how this new technology can be used to advance NOAA’s mission.
  2. Close Gaps: Satellites either fail or are decommissioned over time, which can threaten the quality of NOAA’s work. Big satellites take a long time to develop, often over ten years, which can make failed satellites difficult to replace. For this reason, NOAA needs satellites that are quick and cheap to replace. This is where TMP can help. A satellite that can be quickly put in space can replace an important capability that is lost, ensuring the smooth continuation of NOAA’s important work. Faster replacement cycles, with fresher technology, and faster on-orbit replacement is an important goal of TMP.
  3. Reduce Costs: Projects with the potential to preserve capability at lower cost should be subjected to a life-cycle deployment analysis and categorized as an alternative to existing systems. TMP conducts preliminary analyses preceding initial funding, which can be refined as technical success is achieved. A business case and return on investment (ROI) analysis are currently being conducted in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 with plans to conduct ROI analyses for all future TMP proposed studies.

Why Not NASA?

NASA is constantly developing new ways for us to learn about the Earth’s oceans and the atmosphere, which helps answer important questions for NOAA and optimizes the agency’s satellite services. However, while NASA is focused on scientific exploration, NOAA requires regular, reliable and low-cost access to space-borne information. Through TMP, NOAA can expand and optimize NASA’s innovations and make them ready for ongoing use. While the missions of NASA and NOAA may differ, TMP allows the two agencies to work collaboratively to leverage investments and achieve greater national benefit.

What is the first step?

Program formulation is the first phase under the Technology Maturation Program (TMP); under formulation, funded projects typically assess the feasibility of the budgeted technology. TMP focuses on satellite and instrument technology and the exploitation of space-borne data. This includes concepts that may have high potential for use in a NOAA application, has already been or is being initially developed, and requires NOAA support to further demonstrate merit. TMP does not support efforts that have been committed to deployment in NOAA. The formulation phase may take a space technology to a maturity level of Technology Readiness Level TRL 6 or a ground technology to a maturity level of TRL 5.

Technology Readiness Levels (TRL’s) are defined as a systematic metric/measurement system that supports assessments of the maturity of a particular technology and the consistent comparison of maturity between different types of technology. To understand precisely how TMP will meet program goals and objectives, an understanding of the TRL life-cycle is further explained below. (Read NASA official definition on the NASA - ESTO website as well as in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7123.1B. (Appendix E contains the specifics about the Technology Readiness Levels, how they are applied to both hardware and software, and the what needs to be done to advance from one TRL stage to the next.)

  • Basic Technology Research (TRL 1 through TRL 2)
    • At this stage, concepts are being fleshed out, and background research is being done to determine the goals of the project. Most of this has already be done for TMP has taken on a project.
  • Research to Prove Feasibility (TRL 2 through TRL 4)
    • During this stage, many crucial planning questions are answered. The question of ‘Is this worth it?’ is answered. The cost of taking on the maturation of a technology, and the expected benefits of that technology, once it is in operations, are compared against each other. Then the question of “How might this be done?” is addressed. Scientist and engineers determine what resources might be needed in order to make the technological concept a reality. It’s around this stage where TMP gets involved.
  • Technology Development (TRL 3 through TRL 6)
    • It’s this stage where the concepts become reality. New satellite sensors come to life. New methods of data collection and interpretation are developed and tested. This is point marks the end of TMP’s involvement with the technology. Small tests are done to make sure that the technology works as planned. TMP does not support operational prototype development, deployment or operations. From here NASA will take over guiding the tech through the remainder of its life-cycle.
  • Technology Demonstration (TRL 5 through TRL 7)
    • At this stage, a final operational demonstration is done to showcase the capabilities of the new technology in a controlled, relevant setting.
  • System/Subsystem Development (TRL 6 through TRL 9)
    • At this point in its life-cycle, operational prototypes are being developed. The technology could be a whole platform meant to provide something new to NOAA, or a small add-on to an existing platform that improves NOAA’s existing capabilities.
  • System Test, Launch, and Operations (TRL 8 through TRL 9)
    • This is the final stage of the technology life-cycle. System integration and testing is when all the pieces of the newly developed technology are brought together to test just before launch. This stage typically takes place at the launch sites in a clean room if the technology in question is a satellite.

Read about TMP's potential | View the list of 2018 TMP projects