TEERM Works With Programs and Projects to Address Environmental Pressures

TEERM Works With Programs and Projects to Address Environmental Pressures

4-minute read

NASA’s Technology Evaluation for Environmental Risk Mitigation (TEERM) Program Office, part of the Environmental Management Division, works with agency programs and projects to enhance mission readiness and reduce risks caused by environmental pressures.

Environmental pressures, or environmentally-driven risks, derive from environmental regulations, market forces and federal requirements. Federal rules and executive orders require federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the use of alternative sources of energy, and reduce or prevent discharges of pollutants.

As environmental regulations become more stringent, the use and management of hazardous materials becomes more expensive. Global market responses to increased regulation, both in the United States and the European Union, make some materials obsolete and unavailable for use in NASA applications.  For example, the European Union’s 2006 directive, Restriction of Hazardous Substances, restricts the use of lead in the manufacture of electronic equipment. For the space industry, however, lead is a vitally important component of solder used to fabricate electronic assemblies. Lead-free solder compounds have been shown to develop metal “whiskers” which can grow, dislodge, and cause shorts.

To reduce the impacts of environmentally-driven risks, TEERM manages collaborative projects with industry partners and other agencies to help improve NASA's ability to adopt new materials, processes and technologies, such as lead-free solder alloys for electronics. By partnering with these other organizations, TEERM helps reduce unacceptable mission risks in a proactive and cost effective manner and better positions the agency to respond to new international requirements.

“Our primary role is to foster collaborative projects with organizations that are also working to understand and address problems associated with protecting the environment while advancing aeronautics and space flight capabilities,” said Joni Richards, TEERM program manager. “We also want to better position ourselves to respond to new global regulatory and business paradigms. Doing so helps us lower risk to NASA missions.”

TEERM personnel can provide independent, unbiased technical and scientific consultation on a wide range of advanced materials, corrosion control procedures and protective coating issues.  TEERM project technology areas include

  • Materials management and substitution
  • Recycling and pollution control strategies
  • Remediation and cleanup
  • Renewable and alternative energy
  • Encroachment risk mitigation
  • Adaptive response to climate change
  • Green sustainable development

As regulations change with regards to what is environmentally safe and sustainable, TEERM evaluates replacement materials by exposing them to corrosive conditions and measuring how they perform at Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Beachside Corrosion Technology Laboratory (CTL). TEERM then shares these findings with centers and programs.

“One of our objectives is to support programs and projects by bringing greater awareness upfront, during the planning phase, when we can assist the management team with identifying and addressing environmental risk factors,” said Richards.

The knowledge gained from TEERM’s national and international partnerships ensures the support it provides is well vetted. Within the U.S., TEERM works with the Department of Defense (DoD), Army and Navy, among other organizations. Internationally, the office works with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Portuguese Institute of Environment.

TEERM has been working with the CTL on a material replacement study on hexavalent chromium in coatings. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic form of the element chromium. Its compounds are man-made and widely used in many different industries; NASA, ESA, the DoD and industry use coatings that contain hexavalent chromium to protect metal from corrosion. Restrictive regulations under the Registration, Evaluation Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulation in the European Union affect companies that manufacture or use these materials in the global marketplace. Continuing to use hexavalent chromium containing coatings creates risks of occupational exposures, environmental emissions, additional costs for waste management and dependence on a material that could become unavailable. TEERM is working with NASA, ESA and the DoD to collaborate on projects to replace hexavalent chromium in coatings and reduce the associated risks to mission.

The CTL is ideal for testing new materials for corrosion with its readily available access to sun and salt water. The CTL’s location and the fact that has higher atmospheric corrosion rates than any other test site in the United States is a unique draw for potential partnerships. KSC recently expanded the facility’s beachfront exposure capability from 600 feet to 900 feet, allowing for an increased customer base.

KSC's Beachside Corrosion Laboatory

KSC's Beachside Corrosion Technology Laboratory

Although TEERM’s work goes beyond NASA, the office ensures that every joint venture benefits the agency. The office aims to seek out at least two NASA stakeholders when exploring promising technologies that will reduce environmentally driven risk.

Building International Relationships

With more and more spacecraft being built as joint efforts with other agencies, it becomes vital for all parties to work openly and collaboratively. It ensures everyone is working towards the same high standards and that parts and products built in one country meet the requirements of others. It also prevents duplication of efforts by sharing findings and ideas.

Last October, KSC hosted 35 subject matter experts from NASA, other U.S. government agencies, industry, ESA and the Portuguese Center for Pollution Prevention for the 12th annual International Workshop on Environment and Alternative Energy.

The presentations focused on the workshop theme, “Improving Ground Infrastructure Resiliency Through Sustainability,” and provided insight into sustainable measures that increase the resiliency of essential capabilities and mission-critical ground infrastructure required to support future space missions.

History of TEERM

NASA’s TEERM Program Office is a spinoff of the DoD’s Joint Group on Acquisition Pollution Prevention Program, which was established in 1994 to identify standardized processes to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous materials. Due to the success of DOD’s program, NASA established its own Acquisition Pollution Prevention (AP2) Program Office to focus on the types of impacts that NASA’s programs and projects had on the environment. In 2007, AP2 became TEERM to emphasize the shift from NASA’s effect on the environment to the environmentally-driven risks to the agency’s programs.