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entitled 'NASA's Deep Space Network: Current Management Structure is 
Not Conducive to Effectively Matching Resources with Future 
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Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Space and 
Aeronautics, Committee on Science, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

April 2006: 

NASA's Deep Space Network: 

Current Management Structure Is Not Conducive to Effectively Matching 
Resources with Future Requirements: 

GAO-06-445: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-06-445, a report to the Ranking Minority Member, 
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science, House of 
Representatives. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The President’s Vision for Space Exploration calls for human and 
robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. In response, over the 
next two decades, NASA may spend $100 billion on new technologies and 
facilities that will require reliable ground communications to achieve 
those missions. Presently, that communications capability is provided 
by NASA’s Deep Space Network—a system of antennas located at three 
sites around the world. However, the Network faces challenges that may 
hinder its provision of current and future mission support. 

This report discusses (1) the significant operational challenges faced 
by the Deep Space Network and (2) the extent to which NASA is 
integrating the Network into its future communications plans. 

What GAO Found: 

While NASA’s Deep Space Network can meet most requirements of its 
current workload, it may not be able to meet near-term and future 
demand. The system—suffering from an aging, fragile infrastructure with 
some crucial components over 40 years old—has lost science data during 
routine operations and critical events. In addition, new customers find 
they must compete for this limited capacity, not just with each other, 
but also with legacy missions extended past their lifetimes, such as 
NASA’s Voyager, that nonetheless return valuable science. Program 
officials doubt they can provide adequate coverage to an increasing set 
of new mission customers, especially if they increase dramatically 
under the President’s Vision. 

The Deep Space Network’s future utility is also in question because 
NASA does not currently match funding for space communications 
capabilities with agency wide space communications requirements. While 
NASA created an agency level entity to review the technical 
requirements for integrating assets like the network into an agency 
wide space communications architecture for the future, that entity does 
not address program level requirements nor influence investment 
decisions. Control over such requirements and funding remains with the 
mission directorates and programs themselves. This disconnect allows 
programs to invest in capabilities that may undercut agency wide goals 
for space communications. After this review was initiated, NASA began 
to study how to better manage this gap between agency-level 
requirements and program-level funding, but no recommendations for 
action have yet been proposed. 

Figure: Panoramic of Goldstone, Calif., facility antennas: 

[See PDF for Image] 

[End of Figure] 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO is making several recommendations to NASA that will assist the 
agency in better aligning resources for the Deep Space Network with 
overall agency requirements for future space exploration. NASA 
concurred with GAO’s recommendations. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-06-445]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Allen Li at (202) 512-
4841 or lia@gao.gov. 

[End of Section] 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Results in Brief: 

Background: 

DSN Challenges Could Hamper Its Ability to Meet Future Mission 
Requirements: 

Existing Management Structure Does Not Allow NASA to Match Space 
Communications Resources With Requirements: 

Conclusion: 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

Appendix II: Agency Comments from the National Aeronautics and Space 
Administration: 

Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgements: 

Figures: 

Figure 1: Location of Primary Deep Space Network Communications Sites: 

Figure 2: External corrosion on 70-meter antenna: 

Figure 3: Road Damage to Asphalt Roadway at Goldstone Facility: 

Figure 4: Water Intrusion to Internal Antenna Structure at Goldstone 
Facility: 

Figure 5: Voyager I Mission Spacecraft: 

Figure 6: Mars Exploration Rover: 

Abbreviations: 

DSN: Deep Space Network: 
JPL: Jet Propulsion Laboratory: 
SCAWG: Space Communications Architecture Working Group: 
SCCIB: Space Communication Coordination and Integration Board: 
SMD: Science Mission Directorate: 
TOR: Terms of Reference: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

Washington, DC 20548: 

April 27, 2006: 

The Honorable Mark Udall: 
Ranking Minority Member: 
Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science: 
House of Representatives: 

In January 2004, the President outlined a Vision for Space Exploration 
that calls for human and robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, and 
beyond. Over the next two decades, NASA plans to spend over $100 
billion to develop a number of new capabilities, supporting 
technologies, and facilities that are critical to enabling these 
missions. These missions will have at least one thing in common: they 
will require a reliable network to handle all communication functions 
for both manned and unmanned spacecraft. Most of that functional 
capability for deep space communications currently resides in NASA's 
Deep Space Network (DSN). 

DSN was established in 1959 to support NASA's exploration of the solar 
system. According to agency officials, DSN is designed to communicate 
with spacecraft at distances greater than 1.2 million miles from Earth-
-the distance defined as deep space. It is currently the only system of 
its nature with the capability to serve vast numbers of deep space 
missions. Since its inception, the network has returned extensive 
science data and has proven to be a linchpin for successful space 
exploration missions. Its services are used by NASA, other domestic 
organizations, and foreign space agencies. However, over time, DSN 
officials have had to deal with maintaining an aged infrastructure and 
managing coverage time for an increasing mission set with limited 
capacity. In addition, although NASA has not made any definitive 
decisions in this regard, new deep space communications requirements 
are envisioned to support projected missions to the moon. 

In maintaining a reliable deep space communication system for the near 
term, while also preparing for the future, NASA will need to 
effectively manage its communication needs and the allocation of 
resources to meet them. As recently as 2003, the National Research 
Council reported that DSN was suffering from insufficient 
communications capabilities and occasional failures. In light of these 
issues, you asked us to: (1) identify the challenges NASA's DSN program 
faces in meeting its current and planned space communications workload 
and (2) determine the extent NASA is integrating DSN into its space 
communications plans for the future. 

To conduct our work, we reviewed documents and data related to the 
operations and capabilities of DSN as well as NASA-wide strategic 
planning documents about the Vision for Space Exploration. We 
interviewed program officials as well as contractor personnel about 
challenges they face in managing and operating DSN. Further, we 
collected and analyzed information related to space communications 
architecture management at NASA and held discussions with NASA space 
communications officials about future space communications architecture 
requirements, what assets the architecture will include, and how its 
development is being managed. We also held discussions with NASA's 
Space Communications Organization Study Group, which was established 
during the course of our review to develop options for how to manage 
space communications at NASA. We met with officials at NASA 
Headquarters and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as well as ITT 
Industries contractors at their offices in Monrovia, Calif., and at the 
DSN facility in Goldstone, Calif. Complete details of our scope and 
methodology can be found in appendix I. We performed our review from 
May 2005 to April 2006 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. 

Results in Brief: 

NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) is able to meet most of the 
requirements of its current workload, but serious questions exist as to 
whether it will be able to keep up with both near-term and future 
demands. In the near term, DSN faces a deteriorating infrastructure and 
a limited capacity to serve additional missions. System infrastructure, 
which has been marked by extensive deferred maintenance, is aging and 
is likely to become increasingly fragile and subject to breakdown at a 
time when demand is anticipated to increase. The potential exists for 
the loss of scientific data that would be difficult, if not impossible, 
to replace. In addition, new users will find that, aside from competing 
for network capacity with each other, they must also compete with 
legacy programs that have been extended far beyond their intended 
lifetimes, but still return science data and thus take up considerable 
network time. For example, the Voyager mission launched in 1977 still 
requires DSN support and is envisioned to rely on DSN for the 
foreseeable future. Capacity limits constrain the amount of science 
data that can be returned from deep space by new missions that are 
added to DSN's set of users. 

DSN's future utility is also in question because NASA currently has no 
mechanism in place to match funding for space communications 
capabilities with agency-wide space communications requirements. The 
agency's Space Communication Coordination and Integration Board is 
responsible for reviewing the technical requirements of space 
communications programs to determine whether they fit into an agency 
wide architecture. However, according to agency officials, the Board is 
only advisory in nature and does not review all program requirements, 
such as infrastructure needs. As a result, such program requirements 
are often not raised at the agency level. Furthermore, funding for 
space communications capabilities is controlled by the individual 
communications programs and their associated mission directorates, who 
may not necessarily consider agency wide goals when making investments. 
This disconnect between establishment of requirements and control of 
resources creates the potential for programs to make investments in 
capabilities that may undercut agency wide goals for space 
communications. For example, agency officials noted both the Deep Space 
Network and the Ground Network programs recently were on a path to 
develop separate array technologies to support overlapping requirements 
for the same lunar missions. These efforts would have undercut the 
agency's goals of a seamless, integrated architecture for space 
communications and would have represented unnecessary duplication of 
effort and added costs. After our review was initiated, NASA created a 
task group to study how to better manage this gap between agency-level 
requirements and program-level funding, but it has not yet made any 
recommendations for action to address the situation. 

We are making recommendations to NASA that the DSN program identify its 
current and future requirements in more comprehensive terms and how 
those requirements might be supported as well as items that NASA's task 
group on space communications should consider to better align program 
requirements with agency space communications goals. In written 
comments on a draft of this report, NASA concurred with our 
recommendations. 

Background: 

NASA established DSN over 40 years ago with the intention of 
coordinating all deep space communications through a single ground 
system to improve efficiency and minimize duplication. Today, DSN 
consists of communications antennas at three major sites around the 
world--Goldstone, Calif; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, 
Australia.[Footnote 1] These sites are specifically positioned to offer 
complete coverage to deep space mission craft regardless of their 
positions around the Earth. DSN officials informed us that while 
contractor personnel operate all three sites, NASA owns the physical 
assets and is responsible for funding all operations at the sites. Each 
site has a 70-meter antenna, which can provide communications with the 
most distant spacecraft, and several smaller antennas that can 
facilitate communications with closer spacecraft or can be arrayed to 
communicate with more distant missions. NASA's Jet Propulsion 
Laboratory is responsible for management of DSN and also serves as the 
distribution point for data collected from deep space. 

Figure 1: Location of Primary Deep Space Network Communications Sites: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

DSN supports an average of 35 to 40 deep space missions each year. 
According to program officials, as a mission is being developed, a 
representative from the DSN program works with the mission team to 
establish the amount of coverage the mission will need from DSN assets 
during its lifetime. This coverage includes the amount of time per day 
for routine communications and also critical coverage of major mission 
events. In most cases, missions must negotiate with the DSN program 
because they desire more coverage than DSN can provide. Once the amount 
of coverage time is established and major mission events are scheduled, 
DSN commits to that coverage in a Service Agreement with the mission. 
Within the agreement, DSN commits to providing coverage for 95 percent 
of the time agreed to with its mission customers, while the remaining 5 
percent allows for unexpected disruptions during that coverage. This 95 
percent commitment almost guarantees that all critical mission events 
will be covered without disruption. Once this is put into place, 
missions are generally free to trade time amongst themselves if 
priorities change or a particular mission gets kicked off the network 
due to an unexpected anomaly in the system. The missions that DSN 
supports are not charged for their usage of the system, unless they 
require a unique technology that DSN must add to its system in order to 
provide coverage. This is a relatively rare phenomenon, however. DSN is 
primarily funded through its managing entity, the Science Mission 
Directorate, and receives resources consistent with its performance the 
previous year and its previous year's budget. 

DSN works in conjunction with NASA's other space communications assets 
to provide coverage to missions at all distances from the Earth. The 
Ground Network provides communications capabilities to spacecraft in 
low-Earth orbit. Additionally, the Space Network, including the 
Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, is an Earth-based satellite 
relay system that also facilitates missions in low-Earth orbit. In 
order for a spacecraft to receive support from all of these 
communications assets, NASA must ensure they are coordinated and can 
provide the capabilities for which they are intended. 

Throughout its history, NASA has had different management structures 
trying to achieve this coordination. According to NASA officials, from 
the Apollo missions in the 1960s through 1995, space communications was 
managed through an agency wide communications entity with budgetary 
authority to provide appropriate investments in system capabilities. In 
1995, this management and budget authority was devolved to a central 
contract managed out of the Johnson Space Center in an effort to cut 
costs and streamline maintenance to the assets. The savings from this 
realignment were never realized for the agency and the communications 
assets were severely underfunded as a result of how they were managed 
under this arrangement. Subsequently, management and budget authority 
for these assets were brought back to NASA headquarters in 2001 and 
aligned with the mission directorate responsible for the customers each 
asset served. NASA then created the Space Communication Coordination 
and Integration Board to oversee the technical integration of these 
assets into a seamless space communications architecture. This is how 
space communications assets, including the DSN program, are managed 
currently at NASA. 

The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 contains a requirement that the NASA 
Administrator submit a plan for updating NASA's space communications 
architecture for low-Earth orbital operations and deep space 
exploration so that it is capable of meeting NASA's needs over the next 
20 years.[Footnote 2] This plan is due to be submitted to the House 
Committee on Science and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and 
Transportation no later than February 17, 2007. In addition, the 
Conference Report accompanying the Science, State, Justice, Commerce 
and Related Agencies Appropriations Law, 2006[Footnote 3] requires that 
NASA include a 10-year funding profile for DSN in its fiscal year 2007 
budget request.[Footnote 4] 

DSN Challenges Could Hamper Its Ability to Meet Future Mission 
Requirements: 

DSN is currently able to meet most requirements of its existing 
workload. However, according to program officials, DSN's current 
operational ability is no predictor of future success, and they have 
significant concerns about the ability of the system to continue to 
meet customer requirements into the future. These concerns are based on 
the system's aging infrastructure and projected additional workload on 
top of servicing existing missions. 

Sustainability of DSN's Infrastructure Is Unknown: 

DSN suffers from an aged, fragile infrastructure. Significant parts of 
that infrastructure--including many antennas--were first built in the 
1950s and 1960s and are showing their age. DSN program officials stated 
that the Goldstone complex is down, on average, 16 hours per week for 
maintenance and repairs due to problems associated with its age. While 
Goldstone contains some of the oldest equipment in the system and the 
poor condition of much of its equipment characterizes the underlying 
fragility of the network, operational disruptions occur across the 
entire network. For instance, the 70-meter dishes are widely regarded 
by program officials and mission customers as increasingly fragile, 
which calls into question expectation of their continued reliability. 
In fact, mission customers shared similar concerns that DSN's 
infrastructure is not in the appropriate condition that it should be to 
support their missions. With increasing use of these assets, they fear 
service will only deteriorate and more disruptions will occur during 
service to their missions. Program officials and mission customers 
provided some examples, as follows, of disruptions that have occurred 
during service as a result of infrastructure deterioration: 

* During a critical event for the Deep Impact Mission on July 4, 2005, 
corrosion of the sub reflector on the 70-meter dish at DSN's Madrid 
site caused an unexpected disruption in service. In response, program 
managers had to shift coverage to alternative antennas. While they were 
able to provide adequate coverage of the event for the Deep Impact 
Mission, the shift to back-up antennas forced other users off at that 
time, which meant they lost coverage. 

* In October 2005, a significant power disruption caused by corrosion 
to a major power line resulted in multiple antennas at the Goldstone 
complex going offline, resulting in several hours of downtime and a 
subsequent loss of scientific data.[Footnote 5] 

* In November 2005, failure of a prime network server resulted in 
several hours of unexpected downtime, which in turn caused considerable 
loss of data to four research projects. During this anomaly, the 
Stardust, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and Mars Global 
Surveyor missions lost a total of 241 minutes of coverage to their 
missions. 

Program officials also expressed concern about the possibility of 
massive antenna failure due to metal fatigue. Ultimately, such a 
failure would result from a partial or total collapse of an antenna 
structure. Although no DSN antenna has yet collapsed from fatigue, an 
antenna in West Virginia similar in design and age to those already 
used by the DSN program collapsed unexpectedly in 1988. DSN program 
managers are in the process of finding an engineering firm to conduct a 
survey of the program's antenna assets to assess their structural 
reliability. Beyond that action, program officials rely mostly on their 
experience and visual observations to assess the condition of these 
assets. 

Figure 2: External corrosion on 70-meter antenna: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

Deferred maintenance also poses a significant challenge to the 
sustainability of DSN assets. Since 2002, the program has consistently 
deferred approximately $30 million in maintenance projects each year. 
These projects are commonly associated with infrastructure that is not 
directly related to system performance and have been given lower 
priority when more pressing needs limit the system's ability to provide 
coverage for its customers. For example, several roadway, water and 
electrical projects at the Goldstone facility have consistently been 
deferred due to the need to address system maintenance needs considered 
to have become more pressing. Although the program does seek to 
prioritize its most pressing projects and direct resources to them once 
its budget is allotted, operating aging facilities and systems 
inevitably results in the need for new repairs rising unexpectedly, 
which forces program managers to constantly have to juggle priorities 
to address them. 

Figure 3: Road Damage to Asphalt Roadway at Goldstone Facility: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

Figure 4: Water Intrusion to Internal Antenna Structure at Goldstone 
Facility: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

Limited Capacity to Provide Coverage Is Exacerbated By An Increasing 
Mission Set: 

DSN also faces increasing competition between new and old users for 
coverage time on the system. There is a growing demand for a level of 
service that DSN is not likely to be able to provide to its customers. 
DSN promises 95 percent availability to its mission customers for 
routine mission coverage. According to program officials, the remaining 
5 percent is reserved for unexpected failures and downtimes during 
mission coverage. They said DSN can maintain its 95 percent commitment 
to its mission customers within its current mission set. However, as 
that mission set increases, officials become less confident in their 
ability to continue to achieve that level of service. 

New missions are continuing to increase as they have in the past--by 
some 350 percent over the last 20 years. By the year 2020, DSN is 
projected to be required to support twice the number of missions it 
does currently. DSN officials thus find themselves faced with the need 
to balance this new demand with an equally compelling demand from 
existing "legacy" missions that have remained operational beyond their 
original lifetimes but are still returning science data and need to be 
maintained. Such legacy missions include the following: 

* The Voyager missions--two similar spacecraft launched in 1977 to 
conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn's rings, and the 
larger moons of the two planets--are still supported by DSN today even 
though their primary missions were completed in 1989. Each mission 
receives approximately 12 hours of coverage each day using one of the 
network's 70-meter dishes. 

Figure 5: Voyager I Mission Spacecraft: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

* The Mars Rover missions, although scheduled to end their prime 
missions in mid-2004, have gone well beyond their forecasted lifetimes. 
Program officials pointed out that even though they did not have a role 
in the decision to extend the missions, the program continues to 
allocate funds to support their operations through present day. 

Figure 6: Mars Exploration Rover: 

[See PDF for image] 

[End of figure] 

It is up to the DSN program to determine how best to provide service to 
its many mission customers, but this task is becoming increasingly 
complex. The effort to balance conflicting program priorities is a 
continuing struggle for DSN program managers. So far, DSN has been able 
to avoid stressing the capacity of the system because a select number 
of missions it was scheduled to support were either canceled or failed 
before requiring significant support. However, according to program 
officials, if the number of missions the system is scheduled to support 
begins to increase, the amount of service the system can provide will 
be limited. Further, officials expect that any commitments to provide 
support for manned missions under the coming Vision for Space 
Exploration, in addition to what it currently must support, will 
prevent them from being able to provide necessary coverage to new 
mission customers or maintain the service guarantee of 95 percent 
availability to any customer. 

In addition, the DSN program is planning to begin decommissioning its 
26 meter antennas in 2006 due to costs of maintenance associated with 
their age. Officials told us that they believe the program's remaining 
34-and 70-meter antennas will be unable to sustain the anticipated 
workload in the very near future, and one projection is that the system 
will reach capacity in 2013. If this occurs, the opportunity to 
continue adding new mission customers will be limited and the potential 
for lost deep space science is significant. 

Existing Management Structure Does Not Allow NASA to Match Space 
Communications Resources With Requirements: 

DSN's future utility is also in question because NASA currently does 
not have a mechanism in place to match funding for space communications 
assets with program requirements, such as infrastructure and technology 
development needs, from an agency wide perspective. At the end of 2003, 
NASA created the Space Communication Coordination and Integration Board 
with the intent of reviewing requirements for integration of space 
communications assets into a seamless architecture, but according to 
agency officials, the Board does not review individual program 
requirements or have any authority over the allocation of resources to 
the space communications programs. Instead, funding for space 
communications capabilities is controlled by the individual 
communications programs and their associated mission directorates, who 
may not consider agency wide goals when making investments. This 
disconnect between requirements and resources has caused program level 
requirements to be given low priority by the agency, which in turn has 
forced programs to make tradeoffs to maintain functionality and has 
offered the potential for programs to make investments that may 
undercut agency wide goals for space communications. In light of this 
problem, NASA has recently established a task group to identify ways to 
better address how to match agency requirements with program resources. 

Agency Space Communications Oversight Board Establishes Limited 
Requirements: 

At the end of 2003, NASA created the Space Communication Coordination 
and Integration Board to establish technical requirements for the 
integration of NASA's space communications assets into a seamless 
communications architecture for the future. According to NASA 
officials, the Board is technical in nature and not intended to manage 
space communications, but rather focus on integrating the architecture. 
Further, officials said that no other agency-level entity reviews 
requirements for individual communications programs or establishes 
broader mission requirements for space communications. As a result, 
they informed us that program requirements, such as infrastructure and 
technology development needs, have consistently been given low priority 
by the agency. They said that the DSN program is forced to make 
tradeoffs to maintain functionality, but it is not able to fully 
address its requirements and has concerns about its ability to continue 
supporting the operations for which it is entrusted. 

Currently, identification of appropriate investment resources (in line 
with decisions made about the architecture) is performed by the mission 
directorate with responsibility over the program and the program's 
customers. There is no overarching entity for space communications 
management at NASA to consider the specific investment needs of the 
programs and direct funding accordingly. And while all programs are 
supposed to consider the broader needs of the agency and other programs 
in their investment decisions, officials informed us that there is no 
formal oversight mechanism to ensure that investment decisions made at 
the program level are in line with those broader requirements. 

As a result of this mismatch between agency level requirements and 
investment decisions for the programs that support those requirements, 
NASA has limited ability to prevent competing programs from making 
investments that, while supporting individual program requirements, 
undercut broader agency goals. For example, several agency officials 
noted both the Deep Space Network and the Ground Network programs 
recently were on a path to develop separate array technologies to 
support overlapping requirements for the same lunar missions, which 
would have undercut agency efforts to create a seamless, integrated 
architecture for space communications and would have represented 
unnecessary duplication of effort and added costs. But officials said 
these pilot efforts were terminated after much of the planning for them 
had taken place. However, the termination was a result of budget 
constraints and lack of clearly defined requirements, as opposed to a 
decision by an authority with an agency wide investment perspective. In 
addition, another potential DSN customer--the Solar Dynamic 
Observatory--recognized that DSN could not provide it with the service 
it needed, so it invested in its own communications antennas to provide 
the coverage it needed. Such duplication undermines the original intent 
of DSN to be an efficient, single network for NASA's deep space 
communications on Earth. 

NASA Efforts Address Mis-Match Between Requirements, Resources: 

During the course of our review, NASA established a task group to 
address how best to manage the agency's space communications programs 
so program resources are invested in a way that supports agency wide 
goals. The task group has yet to make any recommendations to address 
these issues. 

Currently, the task group must consider two primary competing 
viewpoints within the agency. One viewpoint holds that the current 
structure of space communications, in which mission directorates and 
programs control resources, is ideal because it allows communications 
support to be controlled by the same entity that establishes and funds 
the programs that use the system. For example, DSN is funded by the 
Science Mission Directorate, which also supports the vast majority of 
missions that the DSN serves. Some agency officials believe that this 
approach provides better customer service, since resource trade-offs 
can be made by those closest to both the customers and the service 
provider. However, under this current structure, maintenance 
requirements for DSN have consistently been deemed a low priority. 

Alternatively, others in the agency point to the success of a more 
centralized space communications structure, as was in place before 
1995. Under this structure, resource decisions can be made in light of 
an overall agency perspective on which communications program can best 
fulfill agency wide communications goals. However, one official 
suggested that under this structure, maintenance requirements for DSN 
could become an even lower priority as the requirements of other 
programs are considered. In the former case, a program like DSN must 
compete for funding against individual missions. In the latter case, a 
program like DSN will compete for funding against other space 
communications assets. 

Conclusion: 

By establishing DSN as the primary communications system for supporting 
deep space missions, NASA will be reliant on the system for mission 
successes--both now and in the distant future. By virtue of this 
reliance, NASA has a responsibility to ensure that the system is 
operationally sound and meets user needs. The system faces challenges 
that call into question how well it will continue to be able to 
adequately support deep space missions. The potential for more 
significant system failure and major disruption to the deep space 
exploration program, both manned and unmanned, looms large if nothing 
is done to address the condition of DSN. As NASA continues to depend on 
the program for meeting its deep space communications requirements, the 
program and the agency will have to determine what those requirements 
are and how they can best meet those requirements with a viable system 
for the future. Establishing these requirements in terms more 
comprehensive than just being able to provide coverage for 95 percent 
of committed time will provide for a better understanding of what is 
needed by the program. Furthermore, quantification and characterization 
of such requirements in more comprehensive terms will be critical to 
the development of a plan as required under the 2005 NASA Authorization 
Act. 

As NASA prepares to take on extensive exploration initiatives under the 
President's Vision for Space Exploration, the agency needs to position 
itself to make investment decisions from an agency-wide perspective. 
Currently, because NASA does not consider program level requirements 
when planning agency wide commitments for space communications, many of 
these program requirements, such as infrastructure needs, are not being 
addressed, which means they will worsen and inhibit the agency's 
ability to support future space exploration initiatives. Also, since 
space communications programs have the ability to direct resources to 
investments, investments made may not support agency wide requirements 
conducive to a broader and possibly more efficient space communications 
capability for the agency. As NASA begins to commit more resources to 
deep space exploration in the future, the agency must ensure that it 
properly addresses the communications needs of all of its missions and 
makes investments from that viewpoint. NASA has the opportunity to 
address this issue through a newly created task group charged with 
analyzing how this can best be achieved. 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

To better position the Deep Space Network to meet existing workload 
challenges and prepare the network for future deep space communications 
responsibilities, we recommend that the NASA Administrator direct DSN 
to (1) identify total program requirements for deep space 
communications capabilities for the near and long term, in terms better 
defined than the single coverage commitment of 95 percent, (2) 
determine the extent to which the program's current capabilities can 
support those identified requirements and (3) develop a plan to address 
any gap between those capabilities and requirements and identify the 
estimated costs of any enhancements needed. 

As NASA's task group on space communications considers how program 
requirements can be better integrated into overall agency goals for 
space communications capabilities, we recommend that the NASA 
Administrator direct the group to consider the following in carrying 
out its task: (1) identify what priority program-level requirements 
have in agency-level decisions affecting space communications, (2) 
determine how program-level requirements for space communications 
programs can be identified and communicated to agency-level decision 
makers, and (3) establish how the agency can identify program-level 
investments needed to address program requirements that support agency 
wide goals for space communications and how to coordinate those 
investments to avoid duplication and additional costs. While 
considering these recommendations and the task at hand, the group 
should also consider the importance of having shared knowledge and 
communication about these issues openly with all entities involved. 

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation: 

NASA concurred with our recommendations. In commenting on the draft of 
our report, NASA pointed out that it already had a plan in place that 
addresses our first set of recommendations, namely the need for the 
agency to identify all DSN requirements for the near and long-term, how 
it will meet those requirements, and identify costs associated with 
meeting those requirements. While we recognize that NASA has a DSN 
Roadmap, the agency still lacks a detailed strategy for addressing DSN 
needs for the future that includes all program requirements, i.e. 
deferred maintenance, in addition to the already projected mission 
needs. Furthermore, the DSN Roadmap does not include estimation of 
costs and does not address the impact of unmet needs on its ability to 
meet mission requirements. 

NASA also commented that the DSN has not been responsible for the loss 
of missions. Our report does not state that missions were lost because 
of the DSN. However, NASA officials provided GAO evidence that mission 
science had been lost as a result of disruptions in the operation of 
DSN, and that point is characterized in the report. 

As agreed with your offices, unless you announce its contents earlier, 
we will not distribute this report further until 30 days from its date. 
At that time, we will send copies to the NASA Administrator and 
interested congressional committees. We will make copies available to 
others upon request. In addition, the report will be available at no 
charge on the GAO website at http://www.gao.gov. 

If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-4841 or lia@gao.gov. Contact points for our 
Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on 
the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report are 
acknowledged in appendix III. 

Signed by: 

Allen Li, Director Acquisition and Sourcing Management: 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and Methodology: 

To identify the challenges facing NASA's Deep Space Network program in 
meeting its current and planned space communications workload, we 
performed the following: 

* We obtained and analyzed NASA documents and briefing slides related 
to the operation and capabilities of the Deep Space Network, including 
budget submissions and funding breakouts, workforce projections, 
missions lists, fiscal year 2004 and fiscal year 2005 Program Operating 
Plans, the DSN Strategic Roadmap, mission agreements, the memorandums 
of agreement with the host countries of the foreign DSN sites, a 2004 
NASA-wide facilities condition assessment, deferred maintenance 
information and work breakdown system data, risk assessments for 
various aspects of the network, return on investment analyses for 
various technology upgrades and system performance and reliability 
data, including records of downtimes. 

* We reviewed the NASA Vision for Exploration roadmaps and the National 
Research Council reports on those roadmaps, the Vision for Exploration 
Architecture report, and NASA Strategic Plan for 2005 and Beyond for 
information about the role of DSN in the Vision. We also reviewed 
previous GAO reports on infrastructure investment, technology 
development and deferred maintenance. 

* We interviewed NASA mission officials to receive their feedback on 
the performance of DSN, including performance shortfalls, in meeting 
their needs and collected information related to those specific 
missions. We also discussed the nature of challenges experienced by the 
program through interviews with NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory 
officials and DSN contractor personnel and received written and oral 
responses from all. 

To determine the extent NASA is integrating DSN into its space 
communications plans for the future, we performed the following: 

* We collected and analyzed information related to space communications 
architecture management at NASA, including the NASA 4.0 Communication 
and Navigation Capability Roadmap, space communication architecture 
plans, descriptions of the various space communications assets intended 
to play a role in the future architecture, Memorandum of Agreement for 
the Management of NASA's Space Communications Networks, and a 
description of the history of space communications management at NASA. 

* We held discussions with NASA space communications officials about 
future space communications architecture requirements, what assets the 
architecture will include, and how its development is being managed by 
the Space Communication Coordination and Integration Board (SCCIB) and 
Space Communications Architecture Working Group (SCAWG). We reviewed 
the charter of the SCAWG. We also discussed the budget development and 
execution process for DSN at the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) 
level, and how that impacts integration of the DSN into the overall 
agency space communications architecture. 

* We met with NASA's Space Communications Organization Study Group, 
which was established during the course of our review, to discuss its 
task of identifying options for the management of space communications 
for the future of NASA space exploration. We also reviewed the Terms of 
Reference (TOR) for this group to better understand its goals and time 
frames. 

To accomplish our work, we visited and interviewed officials 
responsible for DSN operations at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C; 
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif; and ITT Industries 
contractor officials at their offices in Monrovia, Calif., and at the 
DSN site complex in Goldstone, Calif. At NASA Headquarters, we met with 
officials from the Science Mission Directorate, including lead 
representatives from the Deep Space Network program, the Exploration 
Missions Directorate and the Space Operations Mission Directorate, 
including the Space Communications Architecture Working Group. We also 
met with DSN mission officials from the Mars Rovers, Deep Impact, 
Cassini-Huygens, and Stardust programs. 

We conducted our review from May 2005 to April 2006 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Agency Comments from the National Aeronautics and Space 
Administration: 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: 
Office of the Administrator: 
Washington, DC 20546-0001: 

April 10, 2006: 

Mr. Allen Li: 
Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management: 
United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

Dear Mr. Li: 

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the draft report 
entitled "NASA's Deep Space Network: Current Management Structure is 
Not Conducive to Effectively Matching Resources with Future 
Requirements (GAO-06-445)." In general, 

it identifies many of the issues and tradeoffs NASA faces daily in 
managing the Deep Space Network. Clearly, it is a challenge to balance 
the need to make the program responsive to specific users with the need 
to manage DSN as an Agency-wide asset. We appreciate GAO's 
acknowledgment of that balancing act. In the same vein, we agree with 
many of GAO's recommendations regarding the importance of conducting 
long-term planning for the future of the Deep Space Network, in 
particular the need to identify long-term requirements, assess current 
and projected capabilities against those requirements, and develop 
mechanisms for bridging any gaps. Those recommendations and our 
responses are discussed in greater detail below. 

The GAO recommended "...that the NASA Administrator direct DSN to (1) 
identify total program requirements for deep space communication 
capabilities for the near and long term, in terms better defined than 
the single coverage commitment of 95 percent, (2) determine the extent 
to which the program's current capabilities can support those 
identified requirements, and (3) develop a plan to address any gap 
between those capabilities and requirements and identify the estimated 
costs of any enhancements needed." 

NASA concurs with the recommendations and is, in many ways, already 
implementing them. As NASA moves forward with the program, the Agency 
developed a "Roadmap" to help guide the future of the Deep Space 
Network. The Roadmap proceeded in stages that mirror GAO's 
recommendations. First, it proposed a series of upgrades based on 
projected mission demands through 2030. Second, NASA circulated that 
upgrade plan within the user community and reviewed their input in 
order to ensure that the proposed upgrades aligned with future user 
needs. During the process, NASA also sought to identify and resolve 
likely gaps between future demands and future capabilities. Finally, 
the Roadmap was presented to the Agency-wide Space Communications 
Architecture Working Group (SCAWG), which in turn developed a future 
architecture. NASA is currently in the process of refining that 
architecture and estimating the costs of implementing it. We believe 
that GAO's recommendations on positioning the DSN to prepare for future 
communications responsibilities are very helpful and that the refined 
architecture and cost estimates will consider those recommendations. 

The GAO raises important points about the difficulty of making 
tradeoffs between missions and the relative age of the Deep Space 
Network infrastructure. It notes instances in which these tradeoffs 
resulted in less-than-ideal outcomes. While we may take issue with some 
of the specific anecdotes GAO identified, the overall report will be 
helpful in educating the American people about the challenges of 
exploring space. NASA strives for the ideal outcome for all parties 
concerned, but the fact is that DSN does not have infinite capability, 
and it will be impossible to meet all of the potential demands of all 
of the potential users all of the time. With that in mind, I am 
concerned that the GAO report may create the wrong impression: that the 
DSN network as a whole is not currently meeting mission demands. In 
fact, NASA has never lost a mission due to issues associated with the 
DSN network. More importantly, no mission has been unable to meet its 
mission requirements due to a lack of capability in the DSN. 

Nevertheless, NASA shares GAO's concerns about the future capacity and 
capabilities of the system. As I mentioned earlier, the road-mapping 
exercise that NASA initiated before GAO began its study will help us 
plan the system's long-term evolution. As GAO noted, however, not all 
of the issues associated with the DSN revolve around resources, 
capabilities, and requirements. So, NASA initiated a study to review 
the management structure for all NASA space communications. As noted in 
the GAO report, DSN has not always been managed under its current 
structure. An alternative may, in fact, be preferable given the 
evolution of the Agency. Our ongoing study, being conducted by the 
Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E), will help answer that 
question in the broader context of the Agency's plan for space 
exploration. The PA&E study will take into account GAO's 
recommendations to: (1) identify program level requirements and their 
priority in Agency-level decision-making, (2) determine how program 
level requirements can be identified and communicated to Agency-level 
decision-makers, and (3) establish a process by which the Agency can 
identify the program-level investments needed to address program-level 
requirements that serve Agency-wide goals for space communications 
while avoiding duplication and excess cost. We will certainly keep your 
GAO team informed as to the result of our ongoing study. 

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on the GAO report. I 
hope you will keep my comments, and those of NASA personnel, in mind as 
you complete and publish the study. 

Cordially, 

Signed by: 

Shana Dale: 
Deputy Administrator: 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgements: 

GAO Contact: 

Allen Li (202) 512-4841: 

Staff Acknowledgements: 

In addition to the individual named above, Brendan Culley, James 
Morrison, Sylvia Schatz, Robert Swierczek, Trevor Thomson, Hai Tran and 
Thomas Twambly made key contributions to this report. 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] The relationships between the United States and Spain and Australia 
are outlined in international agreements. According to DSN officials, 
in exchange for use of land by NASA's assets in these foreign 
countries, the Spanish and Australian space agencies have full access 
to all deep space science collected by NASA spacecraft. 

[2] See sec. 102(c)(1), Public Law 109-155. 

[3] See H.R. Conference Report 109-272 accompanying Public Law 109-108. 

[4] This profile was not included in NASA's fiscal year 2007 budget 
request. 

[5] Although we requested the amount of science data lost due to this 
disruption, the program could not provide it. 

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