Nasa Technology Readiness Levels explained

What are Technology Readiness Levels? 

Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) were developed by NASA for space exploration in the 1970s. TRL’s measure and estimate the technological maturity of a core technology or program during the selection and the subsequent monitoring and evaluation phase of the technology or product that the program uses to reach market maturity. Technology presence at various points on the scale is used to measure progress toward a technology’s maturity. Many organisations associate a TRL with a standard technology development process (gate), with an acceptable TRL at a given gate.

How is a Technology readiness level determined?

Projects are evaluated against the parameters for each technology level and given a TRL rating based on the progress of the project. There are nine technology readiness levels with TRL 1 being the lowest and TRL 9 being the highest. When a project is at TRL 1 it indicates that the project is in the earliest stages. Once a project becomes close to completion it will move into TRL 7 and beyond. A project which has been completed and proven successful will be classified as TRL 9. The table below shows the different aspects of each Technology Readiness Level. 

Why are TRLs used? 

Using TRLs can provide a common understanding of technology status among technology developers, project managers and other stakeholders. Integration into operational hardware and software systems to demonstrate operational feasibility. Development of limited functionalities to validate critical properties and predictions using non-integrated software components.

Who uses TRLs?

Although the TRL scale was developed by NASA it has since been adopted by many other organisations, such as the European Union, allowing for easy translation into multiple industry sectors, not just space exploration. The US Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Air Force, the oil and gas industry and the European Space Agency (ESA) in Europe, all use the TRL scale.  NASA introduced the Technology Presence Scale as a disciplined, independent program metric (FOM) to enable more effective assessment and communication of the maturity of new technologies.

Technology Readiness levels in practice 

Data obtained from technology readiness levels have been used to make multi-million dollar technology decisions. A notable project where technology readiness levels have been used is NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover. The Mars 2020 rover is planned to carry out seven science instruments as to further scientific knowledge of Mars. The new rover uses a significant amount of heritage technology in order to reduce mission costs and risks. 

This scale is now a defacto standard used for technology assessment and oversight in many industries, from power systems to consumer electronics. Low TRLs have been associated with significantly reduced timelines and increased costs across a portfolio of US Department of Defence programs. 

The Future of TRLs

In 2012 and 2013, the World Economic Forum (WEF) listed CO 2 conversion with TRL as one of the ten most promising technologies and trends to ensure sustainable global growth. The top 10 technologies include emerging technologies, which the WEF believes are on the verge of large-scale deployment and achieving significant development breakthroughs.

A recent approach to decommissioning nuclear sites from the UK government has requested the use of TRL adoption. Another example of utilising TRL’s is from the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) which is a collective problem-solving community of experts from more than 500 businesses, government agencies, research organisations, and universities driven to make geospatial (location) information and services FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. TRL’s are used in modern manufacturing, robotics, biometrics and more.

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