TRL – Technology Readiness Level

File:NASA TRL Meter.jpg
TRL Model

Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is a measure used to assess the maturity of evolving technologies (devices, materials, components, software, work processes, etc.) during its development and in some cases during early operations. Generally speaking, when a new technology is first invented or conceptualized, it is not suitable for immediate application. Instead, new technologies are usually subjected toexperimentation, refinement, and increasingly realistic testing. Once the technology is sufficiently proven, it can be incorporated into a system/subsystem.

Original NASA TRL Definitions (1989)[8]

Level 1 – Basic Principles Observed and Reported
Level 2 – Potential Application Validated
Level 3 – Proof-of-Concept Demonstrated, Analytically and/or Experimentally
Level 4 – Component and/or Breadboard Laboratory Validated
Level 5 – Component and/or Breadboard Validated in Simulated or Realspace Environment
Level 6 – System Adequacy Validated in Simulated Environment
Level 7 – System Adequacy Validated in Space

The TRL methodology was originated by Stan Sadin at NASA Headquarters in 1974.[9] At that time, Ray Chase was the JPL Propulsion Division representative on the Jupiter Orbiter design team. At the suggestion of Stan Sadin, Mr Chase used this methodology to assess the technology readiness of the proposed JPL Jupiter Orbiter spacecraft design. Later Mr Chase spent a year at NASA Headquarters helping Mr Sadin institutionalize the TRL methodology. Mr Chase joined ANSER in 1978, where he used the TRL methodology to evaluate the technology readiness of proposed Air Force development programs. He published several articles during the 1980s and 90s on reusable launch vehicles utilizing the TRL methodology.[10] These documented an expanded version of the methodology that included design tools, test facilities, and manufacturing readiness on the Air Force Have Not program. The Have Not program manager, Greg Jenkins, and Ray Chase published the expanded version of the TRL methodology, which included design and manufacturing. Leon McKinney and Mr Chase used the expanded version to assess the technology readiness of the ANSER team’s Highly Reusable Space Transportation (“HRST”) concept.[11] ANSER also created an adapted version of the TRL methodology for proposed Homeland Security Agency programs.[12]

The United States Air Force adopted the use of Technology Readiness Levels in the 1990s.[citation needed]

In 1995, John C. Mankins, NASA, wrote a paper[3] that discussed NASA’s use of TRLs and proposed expanded descriptions for each TRL. In 1999, the United States General Accounting Office produced an influential report[13] that examined the differences in technology transition between the DOD and private industry. It concluded that the DOD takes greater risks and attempts to transition emerging technologies at lesser degrees of maturity than does private industry. The GAO concluded that use of immature technology increased overall program risk. The GAO recommended that the DOD adopt the use of NASA’s Technology Readiness Levels as a means of assessing technology maturity prior to transition. In 2001, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology issued a memorandum that endorsed use of TRLs in new major programs. Guidance for assessing technology maturity was incorporated into theDefense Acquisition Guidebook. Subsequently, the DOD developed detailed guidance for using TRLs in the 2003 DOD Technology Readiness Assessment Deskbook.

ESA definition

Instruments and spacecraft sub-systems are classified according to a “Technology Readiness level” (TRL) on a scale of 1 to 9. Levels 1 to 4 relate to creative and innovative technologies before or during the mission assessment phase. Levels 5 to 9 relate to existing technologies and to missions in definition phase.

Technology Readiness Levels in the European Space Agency (ESA)[4]
Technology Readiness Level Description
TRL 1. Basic principles observed and reported
TRL 2. Technology concept and/or application formulated
TRL 3. Analytical & experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept
TRL 4. Component and/or breadboard validation in laboratory environment
TRL 5. Component and/or breadboard validation in relevant environment
TRL 6. System/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (ground or space)
TRL 7. System prototype demonstration in a space environment
TRL 8. Actual system completed and “Flight qualified” through test and demonstration (ground or space)
TRL 9. Actual system “Flight proven” through successful mission operations

If the TRL is too low, then a mission risks being jeopardized by delays or cost over-runs. It is a responsibility of the Advanced Studies and Technology Preparation Division to promote the technology readiness at a very early stage in order to make new missions feasible.

Oil and gas industry

The following definition is based on API recommended practice and is used in the oil and gas industry.

TRL 0 Unproven idea/proposal Paper concept. No analysis or testing has been performed

TRL 1 Concept demonstrated. Basic functionality demonstrated by analysis, reference to features shared with existing technology or through testing on individual subcomponents/subsystems. Shall show that the technology is likely to meet specified objectives with additional testing

TRL 2 Concept validated. Concept design or novel features of design validated through model or small scale testing in laboratory environment. Shall show that the technology can meet specified acceptance criteria with additional testing

TRL 3 New technology tested Prototype built and functionality demonstrated through testing over a limited range of operating conditions. These tests can be done on a scaled version if scalable

TRL 4 Technology qualified for first use Full-scale prototype built and technology qualified through testing in intended environment, simulated or actual. The new hardware is now ready for first use

TRL 5 Technology integration tested Full-scale prototype built and integrated into intended operating system with full interface and functionality tests

TRL 6 Technology installed Full-scale prototype built and integrated into intended operating system with full interface and functionality test program in intended environment. The technology has shown acceptable performance and reliability over a period of time

TRL 7 Proven technology Technology integrated into intended operating system. The technology has successfully operated with acceptable performance and reliability within the predefined criteria

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) uses the following guidelines throughout the department in conducting Technology Readiness Assessments (TRAs) and developing Technology Maturation Plans (TMPs).

Technology Readiness Levels for the DOE[7]
Technology Readiness Level Description
TRL 1. Scientific research begins translation to applied R&D – Lowest level of technology readiness. Scientific research begins to be translated into applied research and development. Examples might include paper studies of a technology’s basic properties.
TRL 2. Invention begins – Once basic principles are observed, practical applications can be invented. Applications are speculative and there may be no proof or detailed analysis to support the assumptions. Examples are limited to analytic studies.
TRL 3. Active R&D is initiated – Active research and development is initiated. This includes analytical studies and laboratory studies to physically validate analytical predictions of separate elements of the technology. Examples include components that are not yet integrated or representative.
TRL 4. Basic technological components are integrated – Basic technological components are integrated to establish that the pieces will work together.
TRL 5. Fidelity of breadboard technology improves significantly – The basic technological components are integrated with reasonably realistic supporting elements so it can be tested in a simulated environment. Examples include “high fidelity” laboratory integration of components.
TRL 6. Model/prototype is tested in relevant environment – Representative model or prototype system, which is well beyond that of TRL 5, is tested in a relevant environment. Represents a major step up in a technology’s demonstrated readiness. Examples include testing a prototype in a high-fidelity laboratory environment or in simulated operational environment.
TRL 7. Prototype near or at planned operational system – Represents a major step up from TRL 6, requiring demonstration of an actual system prototype in an operational environment.
TRL 8. Technology is proven to work – Actual technology completed and qualified through test and demonstration.
TRL 9. Actual application of technology is in its final form – Technology proven through successful operations.

TRL assessment tools

TPMM Transition Mechanism

Technology Readiness Level Calculator was developed by the United States Air Force.[14] This tool is a standard set of questions implemented in Microsoft Excelthat produces a graphical display of the TRLs achieved. This tool is intended to provide a snapshot of technology maturity at a given point in time.[15]

The Technology Program Management Model was developed by the United States Army.[16] The TPMM is a TRL-gated high-fidelity activity model that provides a flexible management tool to assist Technology Managers in planning, managing, and assessing their technologies for successful technology transition. The model provides a core set of activities including systems engineering and program management tasks that are tailored to the technology development and management goals. This approach is comprehensive, yet it consolidates the complex activities that are relevant to the development and transition of a specific technology program into one integrated model.[17]




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