Identifying and Mitigating Barriers to the Adoption of Dynamic Radioisotope Power Systems for Space Flight
Given increasing complexity of many safety-critical systems, many organizations like NASA need to identify when, where, and how inappropriate perceptions of risk and anchoring of trust affect technology development and acceptance, primarily from the perspective of engineers and related management. Using the adoption of Dynamic Radioisotope Power Systems (RPS) for space exploration as a backdrop, we define and explain factors that contribute to inappropriate risk perception of various stakeholders. Three case studies (Mars Science Laboratory, Parker Solar Probe, and Titan Mare Explorer) demonstrate how NASA considered Dynamic RPS but decided against the new technology for less efficient alternatives of solar power and solid-state RPS. In the case of Dynamic RPS, increased design complexity that differs from previous successful solid-state power systems flown on the Voyager probes and Cassini spacecraft is one contributing factor, but not the only one. Problems with system performance and incorrect technology readiness labeling of Dynamic RPS technology led to an increased perception of distrust in Dynamic RPS for future missions. We also find that the perception of risk for Dynamic RPS future development is exacerbated by ongoing organizational challenges requiring multi-agency collaboration and coordination. Difficulties in setting realistic expectations for the new technology as well as maintaining coherent roles and responsibilities among the disparate teams involved challenged the technology's credibility and confidence of mission planners. Further, the lack of an independent technology readiness assessment process and a lack of transparency into ongoing technical problems also constrained mission planners from gaining critical information about the technology's reliability. Though technology development budgets and schedules are often constrained due to sociotechnical and political reasons, technology development teams that address the challenges identified here could allow them to mitigate the sources of inappropriate trust that are within their control.
Brummel, ES; Ostdiek, P; Woerner, D; Hibbard, K; Stofan, E; Zakrajsek, J; Cummings, ML
Volume / Issue
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)