Interview with NASA Flight Opportunities Program Manager Tim Chen

Tim Chen

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — In late June, Flight Opportunities announced the selection of Tim Chen as its new program manager. Formerly the small launch technology manager for Flight Opportunities, Tim provided oversight to NASA’s Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO) and Tipping Point activities, which help to advance small launch technology to benefit both NASA and industry. While continuing to oversee these agency goals, this summer he stepped into his new role to oversee the full program. We recently spoke with Tim about his new role and strategy for the transition to program manager.

First of all, congratulations on your new role with Flight Opportunities! You have a broad background at NASA, and also in engineering and with industry. How have these various positions helped set you up for this new chapter in your career?

I spent more than 20 years in industry–mostly with Boeing and Marquardt–before I joined NASA 10 years ago. So, yes, I really have an appreciation of what industry is trying to do in terms of technology and capability development and gaining access to space. I can understand and appreciate the need for those in both industry and academia to get the most bang for their buck in terms of technology development. That’s something that also benefits NASA. When we work together, everyone wins because we can develop technology and capabilities faster by sharing costs and expertise. When I worked as an engineer in industry myself I looked to NASA for flight opportunities to test my experiments. Because I’ve been in the shoes of these PIs, I know the realities of their R&D challenges. I’m happy to be in this position where I can hopefully use this experience to help our community reach their goals while also helping NASA achieve its missions.

Managing a program like Flight Opportunities, with so many different elements, seems like a formidable role to fill. How are you managing the transition?

In the near term, I’ll be immersing myself in all of the aspects of suborbital campaigns as well as the payload selection process. Because of my previous role, I have much more familiarity with our ACO and Tipping Point projects, which are critical to helping NASA and industry work together to advance small launch capabilities. So my near-term focus will be on understanding the suborbital demonstration portion of the program and the opportunities we have to continue our positive impact in this sector. To have as little disruption as possible, Ron Young will continue to help with suborbital payload demonstrations to keep things rolling smoothly.

In addition to the near-term transition, how are you planning for the future?

It’s really important to me to get a broad view from the full community about what is working and where there is room for improvement. I’m planning to have one-on-one conversations with everyone involved in the program. This involves taking note of where we are, reviewing how things are operating day-to-day, and identifying processes that need some work. In addition to speaking with my staff, I’ll be reaching out to flight providers and the research community to understand how the program can most effectively serve them and be responsive to their needs. I will then leverage this feedback to improve our operations, in particular the REDDI process.

What is the ideal result of this kind of “meeting and listening” tour for you?

My hope is that through these meetings I will establish an open channel of communication and really get to know our suborbital launch community. A key part of this transition will be understanding how Flight Opportunities can play a greater role for our stakeholders. And so much of understanding this comes from establishing strong communication with the community–this will form the basis for any changes and improvements we set out for the future. I encourage anyone in our community to reach out any time with feedback, advice, or just to say hello so we can get to know each other better. I can be reached at timothy.t.chen@nasa.gov.