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TRLs & System Readiness
Technology Readiness Leve
Technology Maturity
Integrated TRL & AD2 Calc
Risk Identification
Advancement Degree of Dif
Systems Engeering Role
Technology Readiness Levels
After the Apollo program, decreasing budgets began to have impacts on NASA’s programs and projects. The decades following Apollo saw significant delays and cost overruns. In the early 1980’s Werner Gruel, NASA comptroller, produced a now famous curve illustrating the impact of lack of “up-front” investment. His analysis showed that projects investing less than 5% of total project costs early in the program resulted in significant cost growth and schedule slip. Although interpretation of this curve is often focused on requirements definition, in reality, the fundamental problem is immaturity of the technology necessary to meet the requirements. When the required technology is at a level of immaturity such that development costs and schedules cannot be accurately predicted, the result is overall project cost growth and schedule slip. It was in this environment of restricted resources, cost overruns and schedule slips that a revision of the National Space Policy occurred defining the importance of the role of technology development. From that process emerged the idea of TRL’s.
Technology Readiness Levels (TRL’s) were first documented in a paper titled "NASA technology push towards future space mission systems" (Saden, et. al., 1989). This was a significant change in emphasis on the part of NASA where technology had previously been viewed as merely having a supporting role. This change in role for technology was the result of a revision in the National Space Policy stating that NASA’s technology program “--shares the mantle of responsibility for shaping the Agency's future--.” The new emphasis on technology’s responsibility was no doubt cause for, at least in part, a concomitant reassessment of how technologies were developed and infused, with a goal of approaching technology development and infusion in a much more systematic way - one that would increase the likelihood of success. This resulted in the codification within NASA of seven levels of technology maturity (later changed to nine - see table below) that described the evolution in technology maturity from initial concept to validation in space. The idea of defining stages in a process was also a conclusion reached by Robert Cooper the developer of the stage gate process and while the focus of Cooper is on product development, much can be gained by examining his processes.
Unfortunately, beyond the expansion from seven to nine levels nothing much happened formally within the Agency over the next 17 years. Identification of technologies by TRL was required, but readiness level assignment was typically left to the technology developer. Since there was no underlying guidance, evaluations varied widely. Throughout this time individuals proposed refinements and groups implemented their own processes for evaluation, but when DOD was directed to use NASA’s TRL process in 2002, they found that a single chart describing the nine levels was all there was. Subsequently, DOD began to develop a myriad of process, as did NASA in 2006, no doubt assisted by Congressional requirements added to the ’06 authorization bills of both NASA and DOD specifying that the technologies required for the program be demonstrated in a relevant laboratory or test environment; --. Not a bad incentive!
It is perhaps a reflection of the times that this area is taking on such a level of importance even on an international scale. When times are prosperous, such as for NASA in the days of the Apollo Program, there is no particular emphasis on getting things “right” the first time - one follows the “test-fail-fix process,” or implements multiple parallel approaches selecting for use the one that is most successful. The "test-fail-fix" process has a proven track record, but it is a process that today, most cannot afford to follow. In fact, the concept of the TRL has been adopted internationally with the use of TRL’s in Canada, the UK, and Japan, among other countries, as well as in DOD, NATO and the European Space Agency (ESA) Currently an international working group is attempting to develop an agreement for a set of international TRL’s.
There has also been a proliferation of TRL offshoots, including “Design Readiness Levels,” “Material Readiness Levels,” “Manufacturing Readiness Levels,” “Integration Readiness Levels,” "Innovation Readiness Levels," “Capability Readiness Levels,” ad infinitum– a process that can be continued to a reductio ad absurdum! That being said, all of these offshoots reflect recognition that we are not doing well in the process of developing and infusing technology, and that there are various aspects to the process that must be dealt with in a more propitious manner.
Mr. William Nolte, AFRL developed an automated Technology Readiness Level Calculator which is available from the DAU website or by clicking on the link below. He has also written a book "Did I Ever Tell You About The Whale? or Measuring Technology Maturity "- William Nolte IAP ." His basic calculator was modified for use with the NASA Ares program and has since been further modified to incorporate tracking by project and by WBS product. A third modification has been done to accommodate the 10 TRL levels defined by the NATO TRL scale. And finally, an integrated version of the calculator which incorporates the AD2 process has also been developed.
 
 
Technology Readiness Levels

TRL

Level

Original

NASA

(1989)

NASA

Modified

(1995)

NATO

0

N/A

N/A

Basic research with future military capability in mind

1

Basic principles observed and reported

Basic principles observed and reported

Basic principles observed and reported in context of a military capability shortfall

2

Potential application validated

Technology concept and/or application formulated

Technology concept and / or application formulated

3

Proof of concept demonstrated, analytically and/or experimentally

Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept

Analytical and experimental critical function and / or characteristic proof-of-concept

4

Component and/or breadboard laboratory validated

Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory

Component and/or “breadboard” validation in laboratory/field (eg ocean) environment

5

Component and/or breadboard validated in simulated or real-space environment

Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment

Component and/or “breadboard” validation in a relevant (operating) environment

6

System adequacy validated in simulated environment

System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)

System/ subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a realistic (operating) environment or context

7

System adequacy validated in space

System prototype demonstration in a space environment

System prototype demonstration in an operational environment or context (eg exercise)

8

N/A

Actual system completed and “flight qualified” through test and demonstration (ground or space)

Actual system completed and qualified through test and demonstration

9

N/A

Actual system “flight proven” through successful mission operations

Actual system operationally proven through successful mission operations

Because of the general nature of the definitions, many organizations have chosen to provide expanded
 
TRL Expanded Definitions

TRL

Level

NASA

(2007)

DOD

(2005)

NATOUK MOD
0

N/A

N/A

Systematic study directed toward greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and /or observable facts with only a general notion of military applications or military products in mind. Many levels of scientific activity are included here but share the attribute that the technology readiness is not yet achieved.

N/A
1

Scientific knowledge generated underpinning hardware technology concepts/applications.

Lowest level of technology readiness. Scientific research begins to be translated into applied research and development. Examples might include paper studies of a technology’s basic properties.

Lowest level of technology readiness. Scientific research begins to be evaluated for military applications. Examples of R&T outputs might include paper studies of a technology’s basic properties and potential for specific utility.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

2

Invention begins, practical application is identified but is speculative, no experimental proof or detailed analysis is available to support the conjecture.

Invention begins. Once basic principles are observed, practical applications can be invented. Applications are speculative and there may be no proof or detailed analysis to support the assumptions. Examples are limited to analytic studies.

Invention begins. Once basic principles are observed, practical applications can be postulated. The application is speculative and there is no proof or detailed analysis to support the assumptions. Example R&T outputs are still mostly paper studies.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

3

Analytical studies place the technology in an appropriate context and laboratory demonstrations, modeling and simulation validate analytical prediction.

Active research and development is initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. Examples include components that are not yet integrated or representative.

Analytical studies and laboratory/field studies to physically validate analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology are undertaken. Example R&T outputs include software or hardware components that are not yet integrated or representative of final capability or system.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

4

A low fidelity system/component breadboard is built and operated to demonstrate basic functionality and critical test environments and associated performance predicitions are defined relative to the final operating environment.

Basic technological components are integrated to establish that they will work together. This is relatively “low fidelity” compared to the eventual system. Examples include integration of “ad hoc” hardware in the laboratory.

Basic technology components are integrated. This is relatively “low fidelity” compared to the eventual system. Examples of R&T results include integration and testing of “ad hoc” hardware in a laboratory/field setting. Often the last stage for R&T (funded) activity.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

5

A mid-level fidelity system/component brassboard is built and operated to demonstrate overall performance in a simulated operational environment with realistic support elements that demonstrates overall performance in critical areas. Performance predictions are made for subsequent development phases.

Fidelity of breadboard technology increases significantly. The basic technological components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements so it can be tested in a simulated environment. Examples include “high fidelity” laboratory integration of components.

Fidelity of sub-system representation increases significantly. The basic technological components are integrated with realistic supporting elements so that the technology can be tested in a simulated operational environment. Examples include “high fidelity” laboratory/field integration of components. Rarely an R&T (funded) activity if it is a hardware system of any magnitude or system complexity.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

6

A high-fidelity system/component prototype that adequately addresses all critical scaling issues is built and operated in a relevant environment to demonstrate operations under critical environmental conditions.

Representative model or prototype system, which is well beyond that of TRL 5, is tested in a relevant environment. Represents a major step up in a technology’s demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing a prototype in a high-fidelity laboratory environment or in simulated operational environment.

Representative model or prototype system, which is well beyond the representation tested for TRL 5, is tested in a more realistic operational environment. Represents a major step up in a technology’s demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing a prototype in a high fidelity laboratory/field environment or in simulated operational environment. Rarely an R&T (funded) activity if it is a hardware system of any magnitude or of significant system complexity.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

7

A high fidelity engineering unit that adequately addresses all critical scaling issues is built and operated in a relevant environment to demonstrate performance in the actual operational environment and platform (ground, airborne or space).

Prototype near, or at, planned operational system. Represents a major step up from TRL 6, requiring demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment such as an aircraft, vehicle, or space. Examples include testing the prototype in a test bed aircraft.

Prototype near or at planned operational system level. Represents a major step up from TRL 6, requiring the demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment, such as in a relevant platform or in a “system-of-systems”. Information to allow supportability assessments is obtained. Examples include extensive testing of a prototype in a test bed vehicle or use in a military exercise. Not R&T funded although R&T experts may well be involved.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

8

The final product in its final configuration is successfully demonstrated through test and analysis for its intended operational environment and platform (ground, airborne or space).

Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions. In almost all cases, this TRL represents the end of true system development. Examples include developmental test and evaluation of the system in its intended weapon system to determine if it meets design specifications.

Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions. In almost all cases, this TRL represents the end of demonstration. Examples include test and evaluation of the system in its intended weapon system to determine if it meets design specifications, including those relating to supportability. Not R&T funded although R&T experts may well be involved.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995

9

The final product is successfully operated in an actual mission.

Actual application of the technology in its final form and under mission conditions, such as those encountered in operational test and evaluation. Examples include using the system under operational mission conditions.

Application of the technology in its final form and under mission conditions, such as those encountered in operational test and evaluation and reliability trials. Examples include using the final system under operational mission conditions.

Tailored by individual projects within the context of the basic TRL descriptions defined by NASA 1995