Spotlight: Flight Opportunities Program Manager John Kelly

John Kelly (Credit: NASA)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — In late 2018, Flight Opportunities welcomed John Kelly back to the program in the role of program manager. We sat down with John to get his thoughts on how the program has changed over the years, and his goals moving forward.

You originally worked with the Flight Opportunities program as program manager back in 2010. How has the program changed since then?

Initially, Flight Opportunities matched technology payloads to commercial vehicles. We’ve now moved to a principal investigator (PI)-oriented model where recipients of a NASA Tech Flights award have the opportunity to identify a suitable commercial vehicle and engage directly with the flight provider to execute their flight testing. These vehicles are adding to the breadth of flight profiles and capabilities that PIs have access to and the data they can gather to help mature their technologies. This new PI-centric model and the increasing number of commercial vehicles combine to give Flight Opportunities the promise of attracting a healthy supply of promising technologies. These innovations will in turn contribute to NASA’s goals as well as the expansion of space commerce.

Can you share how your vision for the program is beginning to take shape?

It is my vision to maintain a healthy supply of high-quality technologies coming in to the program pipeline that can help NASA achieve its mission objectives. The latest Tech Flights solicitation provides for a significant increase in individual award amounts. This should generate a higher quantity of proposals, resulting in more high-quality technologies entering the program. With a steady supply of technologies ready to fly, Flight Opportunities is also poised to successfully stimulate transactions in the commercial space market — an objective of the program.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the commercial space community at the moment?

The challenge is to determine the true size of the marketplace, which will in turn determine the number of viable suppliers. Commercial suborbital flight providers offer services that NASA needs to perform payload testing, and NASA will continue to consume those services so long as they are provided.

>And the greatest opportunity?

With NASA’s renewed emphasis on returning to the Moon, as well as a manned mission to Mars, commercial suborbital flight providers have an opportunity to serve the technology development community to help us get there. Commercial providers are ideally positioned to get those technologies up the readiness curve prior to infusion into NASA’s missions to the Moon and Mars.