START employs a systematized approach to formulating and assessing mission architectures and optimal portfolios of capabilities and technologies. It allows decision-makers to see explicitly the information and assumptions that go into the analysis, to conduct "what-if" experiments rapidly with different scenarios and assumptions, and to develop an objective foundation for their decisions. The results of the analyses are presented to the decision-makers in both tabular and graphical forms, allowing massive amounts of information to be conveyed quickly and accurately.
The START methodology represents a significant departure from the process by which many important decisions about funding and technology selection have been made until now.
Though expert decision-makers may be guided by extensive experience and good judgment, they have human limitations. Usually, a decision-maker will consider only a few attributes when comparing competing technologies. Our system's usefulness, as much as anything, is that it induces decision-makers to consider all of the pertinent attributes, and provides a sound method for using them in the decision-making process.
Employing the START methodology also helps decision-makers to comply with increasing governmental and public requirements that decisions be conducted in ways that are transparent, auditable, and repeatable. Our system clearly shows the assumptions, priorities, and programmatic constraints behind the decisions.
To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first successful effort within NASA to employ a fully quantitative approach that addresses long-term projects with intangible benefits (as is often the case with NASA missions), accommodates numerous technical and non-technical constraints, and calculates the impact of uncertainty on the results.
A primary objective of this methodology is to close the loop connecting early technology development, mission design, and mission life-cycle cost. That connectivity, to the best of our knowledge, has not previously been addressed systematically as part of the decision-making process for NASA.
START includes both an operational sequence of steps and an analytical decision framework. The analytical framework is embodied in our new optimization software tool. The sequence of steps by which our analysts interview decision-makers and experts, perform an analysis, and make recommendations is presented on the Operational Steps page.