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NASA Science Technology

NASA Squandering Technology Commercialization Opportunities 48

coondoggie writes "The commercialization of all manner of space technologies has always been a forte of NASA, but the space agency faces a number of economic and internal challenges if that success is to continue. A report by released this week (PDF) by NASA Inspector General Paul Martin that assesses NASA's technology commercialization efforts is highly critical of the space agency's ability to identify and get important technologies out of the lab and out the door to commercial applications."
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NASA Squandering Technology Commercialization Opportunities

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  • Because... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by busyqth ( 2566075 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:02PM (#39214763)
    Because that's why NASA exists after all: to help private investors monetize the products of publicly funded research.
    • But what is the alternative? Make all publicly funded research a state secret? Have publicly funded investors monetizing the products?

      Have no publicly funded research?

    • Re:Because... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:05PM (#39214823)
      It looks to me that selling the products of their research is pretty much the only way NASA is going to get any funding these days. If they can develop new technologies and then license them for production, they could make up for their loss of funding. The only trick would be to make sure the money isn't funneled away to politicians pet projects or to cover something else.
      • I'm all for state run enterprises, but in this case it makes MUCH more sense in letting everyone make shot with new technologies.
        You would get much more out of the tax income of several businesses expanding based on new technologies, then you would out of licenses.

        • How likely would NASA be able to get funding obtained from an increase in the tax base, though?
    • Add another layer of bureaucracy! Doh!
    • If NASA's technological advancements can't be placed in the public domain for all to use, then I say they should at least get a cut of whatever product their technology ends up in.

      Kind of like how MIB is funded.

    • Because that's why NASA exists after all: to help private investors monetize the products of publicly funded research.

      Errr, yes.

      The National Aeronautics and Space Act:
      "Congressional declaration of policy and purpose:
      (a) Devotion of Space Activities to Peaceful Purposes for Benefit of All Humankind.
      (b) Aeronautical and Space Activities for Welfare and Security of United States.
      (c) Commercial Use of Space.--Congress declares that the general welfare of the United States requires that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space."

      It w

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Then, sell the patents. Hey, it's a proven successful strategy.
    • by Githaron ( 2462596 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:14PM (#39214917)
      If research is publicly funded, the research should be publicly owned.
      • The big problem these days is ITAR. Almost every document we release has to go through ITAR review. If it's your job to review this here are your options. Make it sensitive and cover your butt or make it not subject to ITAR and risk your butt. Hmmm which would you do?

        • What I loooove is ITAR cables.

          I love trying to find out OD or bend radius on a cable that someone's deemed ITAR. Look guys, if someone is on your war machine ripping out the cables to try and figure out what you're doing, then you have bigger problems to worry about.

    • The point is that NASA scientist are scientist – which means that they are good at basic research, but does not mean they are good a business.

      A lot of research institutions throw off start ups left and right (Stanford, MIT) come to mind. They have a staff which is good at providing start up funding and / or marketing the patents.

      Politicians like this. Public spending creates small business which creates the jobs of tomorrow.

      However, this is kind of hard to do with basic research because it is basic. P

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        However, this is kind of hard to do with basic research because it is basic.

        Not really. The results may not have an obvious dollar value attached to them, but the idea that one has to fiddle with basic science for decades in order to get something useful isn't borne out by history.

        I've made this statement before and needless to say, it's pretty controversial, so people challenge it. "What about electricity [lightning rods] and magnetism [navigation of ships]? Quantum mechanics or relativity [photocells, nuclear bombs, X rays for medical purposes]? Calculus [trajectories of canno

    • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:25PM (#39215001) Homepage Journal

      Then, sue the hell out of anyone using the patents. Hey, it's a proven successful strategy.

      PTFY (Privatized That For You)

  • If NASA starts selling it software , there is bound to be some troll out there saying they invented it, and sue NASA for copyright infringement.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @06:51PM (#39215279)

    The commercialization of all manner of space technologies has always been a forte of NASA

    I'm sure in some alternate universe, this is true. Not here though. NASA's "spinoffs" have always been one of the more bizarre myths of the program. Most such spinoffs are really companies getting paid to do what they intended to do anyway.

    I've had the opportunity with a former non profit employer to go looking through NASA research, (sometimes dating back to when NASA was NACA), and a common scenario is someone gets paid for a few years to do something interesting, they write a bunch of papers, and then the whole thing gets deep-sixed while all the staff move on to the next research project. In one case the surviving researcher barely remembered the research because no one asked about it for 40 years!

    Meanwhile how seriously does NASA take all this research? They're chucking it from their ever shrinking library at NASA headquarters, for starters.

    This thing of turning public funds into research that nobody reads has been going on as long as NASA has existed. That's why I rolled my eyes at the above statement.

    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      B-b-b-b-but velcro! And Tang! And space pens! And... and... and I'm sure I'll come up with something.

      • You forgot shake testers and aerogel. Perl was initially developed at JPL. Stuff happens--or used to happen--at NASA centers that no corporation would ever try if they couldn't see an immediate dollar in it.

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          You forgot shake testers and aerogel. Perl was initially developed at JPL. Stuff happens--or used to happen--at NASA centers that no corporation would ever try if they couldn't see an immediate dollar in it.

          Like what? Got any examples in mind?

  • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @07:23PM (#39215547)

    NASA creates a lot of great technology. On our dime. So, it seems like we taxpayers have two competing interests. One, since we paid for it, we should have access at some reasonable cost, perhaps even free. On the other hand, it seems reasonable for the agency involved to at least collect enough in license fees to cover the cost of doing the licensing. After all, it requires work on the part of engineers to package the technology for transfer and to do the documentation, and attorneys and other business development people to negotiate the deal and execute the paperwork. So it seems reasonable to me for the recipients of the technology to, at minimum, cover the cost of executing the technology transfer, and not force taxpayers to cover that cost as well, which is essentially a subsidy to the private industry recipient.

    But on to my main point -- the problem is going to be sales and pricing. I am on the board of a small educational non-profit. We were looking for lab and teaching space a while back, and looked at some space at Moffett Field. Since the Navy has moved out, NASA is the largest tenant at Moffett. The Moffett Authority, which is in charge of leasing, is delusional to the point where you keep wanting to ask them: "What planet are you from?". The space they offered was the crap of crap, and they wanted a rent 4X to 5X what better space goes for a half mile away outside the Moffett gates. Couple that with their reputation of being the most restrictive, nit-picky, slow-to-respond, bureaucratic landlord in Sili Valley and it was pretty easy to scratch them off our list.

    So if that is any indication of what it is like trying to do business with NASA, where they are not in a customer role but are in the role of providing customer service at a price that provides value -- well, I don't have a lot of hope. Until someone invents a culture transplant operation, I think that having management that is clueless about how private enterprise does business and is delusional about the value of what they bring to the table dooms the concept.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @07:42PM (#39215707) Homepage Journal

    The annual budget of NASA is around $18 billion. For comparison, the annual revenue of WalMart is $421, Toyota is $228 and AT&T is $124 (billion).

    The budget of Bell Labs peaked at around $3.6 billion in today's dollars.

    NASA claims to generate a ton of innovation which helps to drive the economy. I see no reason not to privatize NASA by running it in the same way as Bell Labs - work on all sorts of stuff, but sometimes direct your focus on useful stuff for both NASA's main mission and economic innovation.

    NASA should be self supporting. Whenever they uncover something which would be useful in the marketplace, they should market it and get some return for the effort.

    Over time we could slowly wean them away from the government teat, and allow them to be self directed. Instead of wasting gobs of cash on political projects with no good scientific mandate (*cough* space station *cough*), they could choose their own course and focus on things which actual scientists think is useful.

    Licensing, patents, renting expertise, products (make and sell satellites), and charging for access to space come immediately to mind. Given the cost of sending a satellite into space, would it really be that hard to take in $18 billion in revenue?

    I dunno, I'm probably not taking human nature into account.

    • by recharged95 ( 782975 ) on Thursday March 01, 2012 @08:20PM (#39216003) Journal

      Human nature == Supply and demand.

      NASA generates so much knowledge from pure research and a decent amount in applied research that there's no market to leverage it.

      Back in the day, there was a market, the old silicon valley, bell labs, IBM R&D, HRL, Corning, etc... There was a demand aspect of corporate facilities and research universities not associated with NASA that would leverage output from NASA. Today, NASA is tightly coupled with tenured funded professors (i.e. no real cutting edge research), there are no big corp labs, and silicon valley is more interested in advertising bucks or how you make fake money (i.e. social gaming).

      NASA can continue to innovate a lot--that they actually still do, but the outlet to absorb it is just not there.

      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        NASA generates so much knowledge from pure research and a decent amount in applied research that there's no market to leverage it.

        There's a problem on the other side too. Lack of demand is a real problem. NASA rarely during its entire history has generated knowledge that someone would pay for with their own money. With other peoples' money, sure, but not their own money.

        As to the dearth of business and private labs, I think one need not look further than the vast swell of government funded research to find the reason. Why do your own research at your own risk when Uncle Sugar can pay you exorbitant amounts to do risk-free research?

    • by gewalker ( 57809 )

      I suppose based on your comment re: the International Space Station that this page [wikipedia.org] should be an error 404 instead of packed with references to "scientific research". Perhaps surprising, I mostly agree with most of what you said.

      Plenty about the ISS is of questionable merit based due to the high cost of the research, but a lot of that what due to the horribly inefficient shuttle delivery service.and as well as political considerations -- there is no lack of scientific value for a decent space station, there

    • by bertok ( 226922 )

      To a degree, CSIRO here in Australia works like this. Its research is often commercialized and sold, usually via patent licensing. They just recently won $200 million from companies manufacturing WiFi equipment that hadn't properly licensed their patents.

      Personally I think that the way a national research organisation should function is that it should give its research away for free to the citizens and corporations of its home country, and charge foreign organisations to use the patents. That way, it would

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