NASA TechPort’s Patrick Murphy and Ryan Miller discuss how technologists and innovators can use the tool to exchange ideas for groundbreaking solutions.
NASA’s Technology Portfolio System, TechPort, is a comprehensive resource for locating information about NASA-funded technology development activities. The web-based portal allows NASA’s workforce and the public to explore and learn about technologies NASA is working to mature for aeronautics, space exploration and scientific discovery.
In this episode of Small Steps, Giant Leaps, you’ll learn about:
- Benefits of using TechPort
- Features of the web-based portal
- Data mining for faster technology development
Patrick Murphy is the Director of Strategic Planning and Integration for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Murphy advises the NASA Space Technology Associate Administrator and Deputy Associate Administrators on long-term strategy, technology investments and tactical direction essential to a return to the Moon and exploration of Mars. He previously served as Resources Management Director for the Office of the Chief Technologist. Murphy joined NASA in 2005 as a Lead Analyst for NASA Headquarters Program Analysis and Evaluation, managing science, aeronautics and education programs. He holds a bachelor’s in engineering from Loyola University and an MBA from Golden Gate University.
Ryan Miller (ARES Corporation) serves as the Lead Architect and Senior Software Engineer for TechPort. As a member of the TechPort team since 2011, Miller has led development efforts since early formulation. He supports the Space Technology Mission Directorate and other TechPort stakeholders by identifying innovative ways to analyze the agency’s technology portfolio, bridging the gap between data and information, and communicating this information to technologists and researchers. Miller has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and an MBA from the University of Mary Washington.
Ryan Miller: TechPort provides powerful searching and reporting tools that allow technologists to find information about what types of technology NASA’s developing, who our partners are, and where the work’s being done.
Patrick Murphy: When program and project managers are looking for the benefits of using state-of-the-art technology for doing some of our groundbreaking missions, TechPort is the place to go to.
Ryan Miller: We actually offer an advanced search feature that allows our users to specify exactly what level of technology maturity they’re looking for.
Deana Nunley (Host): You’re listening to Small Steps, Giant Leaps – a NASA APPEL Knowledge Services podcast featuring interviews and stories, tapping into project experiences in order to unravel lessons learned, identify best practices and discover novel ideas.
I’m Deana Nunley.
TechPort showcases exciting, novel and crosscutting technology development activities at NASA. From concepts to prototypes to fully developed technologies, the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s web-based portal transforms technology investment information into opportunities for collaboration and partnerships, and much more.
STMD Strategic Planning and Integration Director Patrick Murphy champions the initiative and TechPort Lead Architect Ryan Miller from ARES Corporation manages the development team to ensure seamless operations.
Patrick and Ryan, thank you for joining us on the podcast.
Ryan Miller: Thank you.
Patrick Murphy: Thank you, Deana. It’s great to be here.
Host: Patrick, could you give us an overview of TechPort?
Patrick Murphy: Sure. TechPort is – you can think of it as a place where the technology that our NASA innovators and technologists, when they develop technology, it’s a place where get input from thousands of people across our centers that are across the country as well as our mission directorates. It’s a place where we can exchange ideas and goals that are groundbreaking solutions. It’s a web-based solution that brings technologists, innovators, mission directorates that are formulating projects as well as reaching out to our commercial and academic partners. So, it’s a place where folks can find the technology, build upon it, and share it.
Host: So, it’s open to an audience beyond NASA internal, is that right?
Patrick Murphy: Yes. In fact, when you think about TechPort it’s offered to our external stakeholders as well so you might see folks from the public. That includes like congressional staffers, other government agencies, as well as the general public that want to run reports and possibly research on what new technologies are out there for any given type of technology that they have interest in.
Host: Ryan, what are the key features of TechPort?
Ryan Miller: So, the core data point in TechPort is the technology development project. We currently catalog over 19,000 technology development projects. Each of these records contains information about the type of technology being developed, the benefits it provides, who’s doing the work, and what we expect it to accomplish. TechPort provides powerful searching and reporting tools that allow technologists to find information about what types of technology NASA’s developing, who our partners are, and where the work’s being done. I mean we might even be in your backyard.
We also have a great new feature that describes technology by its target destination. In other words where is the technology going to land, be it the Moon, Mars or beyond? We have a great home page that showcases all of the new technology development, technology that’s just been completed, and a weekly featured project. For example, one of our most viewed projects right now is called XCOM. It’s actually the first space-based technology demonstration of communication in the X-ray band, which is actually a joint effort between NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Naval Research Laboratory. And this technology is actually building off of a former technology called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer Mission, which is currently operating on the International Space Station.
Host: So, you mentioned it might be in your backyard. Could you tell us more about what you’re meaning there?
Ryan Miller: Well, we have this feature in TechPort so that you can find out where the work is being done. NASA does work in almost all 50 states, so you know you’ll find that NASA is doing work in Houston, and it’s doing work down at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, it’s doing it at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, all over the nation.
Host: What do you see as the strengths of the tool that make it unique?
Ryan Miller: So TechPort provides a variety of tools for our diverse audience. We have a lot of different folks with a lot of different needs, and Patrick mentioned earlier that we have customers within the NASA agency, within commercial space industry, within academia, and the general public. So, we offer ways to find technology developments that NASA has completed or is working on right now. So commercial space industry might want to review the work that NASA has already done in order to identify partnership opportunities or gaps that need to be filled. Academia can digest our database for technology trending analysis, future capability prediction, and just generally advancing the state of the art. And then the general public might just want to learn about all the cool things the agency is doing.
I think what makes us unique is that we offer in-depth information about those technologies, and this includes things like peer-reviewed publications, closeout reports and technical data. This is the type of information that we think provides great benefit to technologists inside the agency and throughout the public.
Patrick Murphy: Hey Ryan, let me jump in. You triggered some ideas when I was sitting here listening to you and one of the things I wanted to highlight is you know you talked about how it’s in our backyard. Another interesting thing about TechPort, it’s actually a tech portal for folks from all across the agency, and when I say that, we have five specific mission directorates here at NASA. We have the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, our Science Mission Directorate, Space Technology Mission Directorate as well as our Mission Support folks. So, we’re across the 18,000-plus employees here at NASA we’re getting all the technology that’s being developed currently. So, this is a place where folks can see and have taken notice.
Ryan Miller: To date we’ve had almost 300,000 unique visitors to the site. Those visitors run reports, they conduct searches, they harvest data, find partnerships, and just generally learn about the state of technology development at NASA. Outside of NASA TechPort has facilitated information sharing across multiple other U.S. government agencies, including OMB, the DOD, DHS. We’ve seen congressional staff use TechPort to identify what types of technology development work is being conducted in their districts. We’ve seen our external partners at JAXA and the European Space Agency visit frequently, and we see universities around the world regularly harvesting our data to use in their research.
I also wanted to mention that we regularly participate in public outreach events such as the SpaceCom event that’s hosted down in Houston, and at that event we really reach out and connect with companies and academia, many of which already have some of their technology showcased in TechPort.
Host: Is data mining an important aspect?
Patrick Murphy: Most definitely. It’s amazing how when Ryan and his team see the reports that come across as far as what people are looking for there’s a couple of unique features. When we talk about TechPort, one of our mottos that we have within TechPort is to find it, build it and share it. And so when you think of TechPort, when projects are initially being formulated this is where the technologists across the agency and project formulators should be going to to take a look at what technologies are available so they can build upon it to develop new missions and develop their instruments.
We also see data mining in areas where if you’ve, if anybody on the outside has a specific interest in, for example, the new lunar initiative that we’ve got from the Presidential Management Directive, SPD-1. We’re going to the Moon by 2024. If anybody from the outside or inside wanted to be able to look at what investments is NASA making in technology with the Moon, TechPort is the right place to go to and see where we are—to find the technology, build upon it, and share it.
Ryan Miller: TechPort actually offers a full-featured API, or application programming interface. It was created specifically for data mining projects. We’ve seen significant usage of this feature over the last few years by other space agencies and by academia. Users of this feature can actually harvest all of the information that’s available in TechPort using a machine-readable format. And I mean the potential applications of this type of data availability are really limitless. This feature just further reinforces our dedication to open data and information sharing. I mean we feel that through this transparency we can really make a difference and create better technology faster.
Host: How could NASA program and project managers benefit from using TechPort?
Patrick Murphy: When it comes to formulating a project and when program and project managers are looking for the benefits of using state-of-the-art technology for doing some of our groundbreaking missions, TechPort is the place to go to to take a look at it. When we went and we briefed the Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, earlier this year, he was just so enthusiastic about the capability of TechPort being able to go out there and search on any specific subject matter that you were interested.
Ryan Miller: It’s also a great knowledge sharing platform. NASA program and project managers can use TechPort to identify similar projects that may be able to share lessons learned and other types of artifacts that might help them expedite their own development. They can identify potential collaborators or companies that have proven expertise in a given field. It’s also a way that they can share their cool technology with the rest of the world.
Patrick Murphy: You know, Ryan, you bring up a really good point. You know the nice feature about TechPort is there’s closeout reports. And what that means is just like the Wright Brothers and you know there are lots of successes, but there are also lots of failures. And being able to capitalize on those failures, that’s in those detailed reports. So, folks out there that are the technologists and inventors and developers, they’re not going to make the same mistakes, but they’re going to build upon the shoulders of the innovators that have already tried some wild idea.
Ryan Miller: Exactly.
Host: How does the tool help researchers?
Ryan Miller: What I think makes us unique is kind of peeling that extra layer back, being able to find the real, technical details about these development projects. On TechPort you can find peer-reviewed publications that discuss the work being done, some of the benefits that it’s going to provide. Researchers can use this information to develop their own studies and thesis concepts and build upon technology that NASA has already developed and proven.
I’ll also mention that outside of this we’ve actually seen some researchers glean some really interesting things related to technology trending analysis and the differences between how the commercial space industry world develops technology versus how NASA works on these technologies for aeronautics and space exploration applications.
Host: Let’s talk about the TechPort indexing system. When NASA technical workers are looking for innovative or new technologies, perhaps at a specific Technology Readiness Level, how does the TechPort indexing system help them find what they need?
Patrick Murphy: So, I’ll touch on a little bit and then, Ryan, I’ll let you dive into the details. So, when you think of Technology Readiness Level, the TRL level, we have everything from the very low TRL level, so this is more of the basic engineering that’s out there, so this would be technology that we’re investing in that is very long-term, that’s way out there, ideas like interstellar travel, things like that versus things that are also maybe more higher-TRL and that’s maybe in the area of nuclear thermal propulsion. Some are in that area. So, Ryan did you want to talk about this new capability that’s also going to be featured in TechPort as far as the Technology Readiness Levels in the indexing?
Ryan Miller: Yeah, so we actually offer an advanced search feature that allows our users to specify exactly what level of technology maturity they’re looking for. You know this is beneficial because flight projects are going to be looking for things that are high TRL, mature technologies that could be used in their mission. Researchers and technologists may be more interested in low TRL technology that they can further enhance.
NASA has also just released a brand new version of what we call the technology taxonomy, and it’s actually going to be available on TechPort. The taxonomy is basically a way to sort and bend technologies, to categorize them if you will. The taxonomy offers a great way to take a gradual approach to finding the types of technology you might be interested in. And if I can give you an example. At first you may be broadly interested in propulsion technology, for example, but if you dive deeper into that category you’ll see options for breaking that down by chemical propulsion and electric propulsion. If you were to click on electric propulsion then you can see options for electrostatic, electromagnetic and electrothermal systems. And if you were to look in this you might find technologies such as the Solar Electric Propulsion Project, which is geared towards designing and developing a high-powered, 12.5-kilowatt Hall effect thruster—pretty cool stuff.
Host: Yes. Could you give us a couple of examples of how the tool has been used effectively within the agency?
Patrick Murphy: As I touched on earlier when we briefed the administrator back in the January timeframe our administrator is originally from the Oklahoma part of the country and he was very interested in the capabilities of, “Hey, if I was traveling to a particular state, could I easily go into TechPort and run a report on the technology at a particular university or a particular location in the country?” And so we were able to do a live demonstration with the administrator and have results for, I think, Ryan, it was about everything he asked for, wasn’t it?
Ryan Miller: Yep.
Patrick Murphy: So it really demonstrated its strength and power for anybody within the agency from all the way up to the most senior level at NASA to the innovator across our agency that they can run reports, find the information, find where the engineering is being done, find the technology maturity level and the technology level of the specific area that they’re interested in developing or researching or just, quite frankly, curious about.
Ryan Miller: One thing we see a lot are the various NASA centers looking into types of technologies that their center focuses on. For example, Ames Research Center, they pull all of our data on a daily basis because they’re looking for technologies related to small satellite development.
I also wanted to mention that the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist uses TechPort to facilitate things like capabilities planning and gap analysis, basically identifying the types of technology that the agency is going to need to accomplish its short- and long-term goals. One of the great benefits of TechPort is that it significantly reduces the overhead required through constant data calls. Because it’s a dynamic system this means that NASA technology developers can update information about their projects in real time. Having this information in a centralized repository has been an excellent cost-saving mechanism for the agency.
Host: That does sound like a really great benefit for the agency. How does TechPort benefit people outside of NASA?
Patrick Murphy: I’ll give you this example. So, every year we get invited up on the Hill to talk to staffers about all the really cool technology that NASA is doing. But that’s often limited by the number of technology items we’re able to ship to get up on the Hill to have our Tech Day on the Hill with our staffers. The really unique capability is we went and asked our team if we could go ahead and offer TechPort and do a demonstration live for the staffers when they came up to our Tech Day on the Hill. Well, the enthusiasm was incredible. For them to have that power now to go out and take a look at NASA’s investments so when their congressman or senator has a question specifically about where the investments are in their district or if they had a general question about nuclear or what are we doing in lunar, the power and capability of TechPort was refreshing and the excitement was really witnessed across when we were at the Tech Day on the Hill. So that’s a great example of how externally folks are really seeing the value of it.
Host: Is TechPort connected with NASA Technology Transfer?
Patrick Murphy: Yes, it is. What we do is we offer a handshaking with a number of the initiatives across NASA, so Tech Transfer is definitely a partner that we want to have closely. So, Ryan do you want to offer some examples of how we’ve helped Tech Transfer and we’ve offered connectability between other capabilities here at NASA?
Ryan Miller: Yep. This is a question we get frequently and I think the relationship between TechPort and the Tech Transfer Program is very synergistic. TechPort is showcasing the technology developments that are happening right now. Once those technologies are completed, the NASA Tech Transfer Program creates an avenue for interested parties to potentially reuse or license that technology to build their own business or enhance their technology offerings.
Host: For anyone who hasn’t used TechPort and wants to give it a try, what are your recommendations for getting started?
Ryan Miller: When you first click on TechPort, you’re going to see a homepage that’s going to showcase some of the new technologies, some of the things that have just been completed, and some of our most popular technology development projects. Once you digest some of that my recommendation would be just run a few searches based on the types of technology you might be working with or interested in learning more about. This can include anything like energy storage, batteries, robotics, sensors, nanotech, and so on. Check out a few of those projects, the type of information available.
You can also consult our help articles. These provide some basic use cases and getting started tips. We currently feature articles on TechPort reports, search and our API. And you can also contact us at any time via the contact feature within the TechPort help page.
Patrick Murphy: Another feature that I also find extremely valuable is we provide links for solicitations. So, the NASA solicitations that are out there, like recently we had our Technology Graduate Research Opportunities, so that’s a solicitation that’s out there now that folks can have an easy link to get to to see what solicitations we have out there. There’s also another feature out there for announcements. So, these are announcements of the month and these are everything that’s going on within the agency around technology that folks can link to.
Host: That’s really helpful. Now if a NASA employee wants a hands-on demonstration, what would you suggest?
Ryan Miller: So just reach out to us and we’d be happy to oblige. If you just send us a note with what you’re specifically interested in beforehand we can tailor our feature demonstration to your needs. You can always get to TechPort, just go to TechPort.NASA.gov and our email address is right at the bottom of the page under a link called Contact TechPort.
Patrick Murphy: And we’re going to be doing a roadshow at all of our 10 centers. So we plan to be coming out at each of the centers and give folks an opportunity, hands-on—Deana, you were asking about hands-on experience—hands-on experience at the centers where we’ll actually come to maybe the community center or the cafeteria and we’ll have a table set up and folks can get out there and try it and get the feature. We’ll have some of our cool little stickers that say “TechPort,” and you can pop that on the back of your laptop like most people like to do. You know, I’m a very tactile person, so I like to be able to touch things and try it out. So, if it’s not me it’ll be Ryan or one of our other technologists out there, our chief technologists that we’ll be leaning on to help offer these demos.
But it’s an exciting year. Last year we hit over $1 billion worth of technology that was in TechPort. We’re really seeing the excitement across the agency and the use of TechPort, most recently with the Human System Lander Proposal that was just put out. TechPort was mentioned as an area for the proposers to go out and take a look at NASA technology. So, we know we’ve got senior leadership backing all the way up to the administrator, we’re seeing it in our proposals, we’re getting excitement both with our innovators and our technologists, and so we’d like you all out there to give TechPort a try. It’s real exciting to have this, and Deana, I appreciate you giving Ryan and myself an opportunity to speak with you today.
Host: Absolutely. It has been a pleasure talking with both of you and really appreciate you taking the time to join us today and bringing us up to speed on TechPort. Do you have any closing thoughts?
Patrick Murphy: Well, like I said in the beginning of the podcast TechPort is the place where you can find the technology that is developed from thousands and thousands of NASA folks across the agency. So, if you have curiosity about the different types of technology, if you’re a garage innovator or inventor, or if you’re in commercial or university, take a look at TechPort. If you’re a NASA innovator here and you’re working on developing a new initiative or project and you’re looking for a way to capitalize on already developed technology, come to TechPort. This should be your first place you go to when you’re doing anything. TechPort is a wonderful place to do collaboration with technologists and it’s a great initiative here at NASA Headquarters.
Host: Links to topics mentioned on the show are available at APPEL.NASA.gov/podcast along with Patrick and Ryan’s bios and a full transcript of today’s episode.
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As always, thanks for listening.