Under Terrier, NASA’s JSC Seeks to Support Space Innovation

Houston—As chief technologist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Douglas Terrier focuses in part on fostering innovation within his own organization. But his duties also involve seeking outside commercial partners that can use space technologies in other fields.

“Our legacy system is the government invests in technology unique to NASA applications and somewhere down the road that leads to a spinoff that affects medicine or whatever,” he says. “We’re now taking a much more proactive approach to that. We work early in the process with industry to identify common challenges.”

One example he gives is developing communications systems to cover the large distances in space, such as during a flight to Mars. Terrier says companies in oil and gas seeking better ways to send information to down-hole locations and back, have similar needs as the space agency. “We can work that problem together,” he says.

I spoke with Terrier about his goals in spinning out NASA technology—including its online catalog of patents waiting to be commercialized—and how he hopes to work with the private sector. Prior to joining NASA in 2003, Terrier spent more than two decades in the aerospace industry, working in business development at Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and General Electric Aircraft Engines. “Hopefully having that awareness from a commercial perspective, as well as the understanding of NASA internally, gives me an opportunity to bridge the language barrier,” Terrier says.

A small private sector space economy is growing around NASA’s extensive operations in south Houston. Startups like Intuitive Machines and NanoRacks are finding opportunities to work with NASA in building up a space innovation ecosystem.

Terrier says the JSC is “completely invested” in the idea of Houston as Space City and says he expects early efforts to make the city home to one of the nation’s spaceports makes sense.

“Space exploration was solely government funded, and as that changes to be much more of a mix, for Houston to remain a leader in space flight, we need to have a presence in the commercial sector and need a commercial launch facility designation,” he says.

I spoke to Terrier by phone; here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Xconomy: You seem to have a broad portfolio at NASA. What are some of your main day-to-day tasks, and how do they fit into your overall mission?

Douglas Terrier: The JSC being one of 10 NASA facilities around the country is specifically focused on human space flight missions, complemented by robotic missions (rovers on Mars), science observatories, the Hubble space telescope looking deep into the galaxies, [and] earth observations systems.

I’m really responsible for integrating the entire portfolio of technology, both our investments and those that were co-developed with outside partners. We want to create breakthroughs specifically focused on human spaceflight needs: propulsion systems, advanced fuels and materials and manufacturing techniques. Because … Next Page »

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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