NASA has in recent months put more emphasis on the commercial space sector, namely by funding SpaceX's Dragon flights to the International Space Station, but the agency is looking further outside of its walls to develop the next generation of spacecraft and exploration equipment. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday announced the creation of the "Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)," a new division within NASA that will make investments in "bold, broadly applicable, disruptive technology that industry cannot tackle today." The division will take its place alongside NASA's four other existing directorates and take over investment programs NASA has been running since July 2011, as a video outlining the effort shows:
NASA isn't about to hand over money to just anyone though. In a description of the new division's funding process, NASA says it will use "merit-based competition" to award funding and open the field up to companies, academic institutions, and current NASA science centers around the country.
Laser space communications, unmanned aerial systems, in-space transportation
NASA hasn't said specifically how much money it will put toward this effort, much less what it hopes to see in terms of concrete new advances, but the new directorate is being created in response to President Obama's call in his 2013 federal budget request for NASA to invest in "a broad spectrum of space and aviation technology research grants and demonstrations of high-priority technologies, from laser space communications to unmanned aerial systems to in-space transportation."
The President's 2013 budget request also calls for $699 million for the new division this year, but to get that amount of money, it's up to Congress to pass that budget or an alternate one, and lawmakers don't appear close to doing that any time soon. Ultimately, the success (or failure) of NASA's new division will likely depend on how much of that sizable budget request actually gets approved in a final compromise bill.