State of development of the technology

The state of development of a technology indicates, in which time scale the market entrance of technology-based products is to be expected, and/or to which extent a market penetration has already taken place. As rough classification of the maturity of a technology the following phases from the theory to the diffusion of commercial products can be distinguished:

• Visionary application (approx. > 15 years, theory)

• Long-term application (approx. 10 to 15 years, concept)

• Short to medium-term application (0 to10 years, prototype)

• Innovation, market entrance

In space technology a somewhat modified evaluation scale is usually applied, which additionally includes the criterion of space qualification. All materials and components used in spaceflight must be tested and qualified regarding their applicability under space conditions. This covers among other things tests under relevant conditions (e.g. radiation and temperature influences) as well as an employment in space under operating conditions. As evaluation scale for space qualification, for example, the nine-level scale of the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) can be used according to NASA (see illustration 20).

Technology Readiness Level for the evaluation of space technologies

Illustration 20: Technology Readiness Level for the evaluation of the maturity of space travel technologies (source: NASA)

In the illustration 21 nanotechnological topic areas are classified in correlation to their respective state of development, differentiating between space components, subsystems and systems. The state of development of the technology is indicated both as TRL level as well as time interval up to market readiness in the terrestrial market. The illustration gives a qualitative estimation for some selected examples and lays no claim to completeness.

Illustration 21: State of development of nanotechnologically influenced space components, subsystems and systems (explanations see text)

R&D activities regarding nanotechnology developments for space applications can be assigned to different sectors in relation to the state of technology development. R&D activities of the space industry will usually only start from a TRL level of 6 (prototype is tested in relevant environment) to mitigate the development risk. Public funded space research, due to limited budgets, has to focus on first qualification steps of nanotechnology components, which will reach market readiness in the terr-restrial range in a short term. The mid to long-term research expenditures for nanotechnology developments will be mainly the task of public funded terrestrial nanotechnology programmes. The main drivers here will be applications in terrestrial mass markets like information and communication technology or the Life Sciences range. An exception here concerns NASA activities, where substantial funds are invested into long term basic nanotechnology research.

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