Space Surveillance:

DOD and NASA Need Consolidated Requirements and a Coordinated Plan

NSIAD-98-42: Published: Dec 1, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 1, 1997.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space surveillance requirements and DOD's space surveillance capabilities, focusing on: (1) how well DOD's existing surveillance capabilities support DOD's and NASA's current and future surveillance requirements; and (2) the extent to which potential surveillance capabilities and technologies are coordinated to provide opportunities for improvements.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD's existing space surveillance network is not capable of providing the information NASA needs to adequately predict collisions between space objects orbiting the earth and multibillion dollar space programs like the space station; (2) the existing network cannot satisfy DOD's emerging space surveillance requirements, which are currently under review; (3) DOD's plans--to modernize an existing surveillance network radar system and develop three new ballistic missile warning systems that could contribute to performing the surveillance function--do not adequately consider DOD's or NASA's surveillance requirements; (4) these four systems are separately managed by the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army; (5) an opportunity exists to consider these systems' potential capabilities to enhance the surveillance network to better satisfy requirements and achieve greater benefits from planned investment in space sensor technology; (6) despite NASA's dependency on DOD to provide space object information, the 1996 National Space Policy makes no provision for an interagency mechanism--either organizational or funding--to ensure that DOD's surveillance capabilities satisfy NASA's requirements; (7) overall, there is no authoritative direction, formal agreement, or clear plan on how DOD and NASA could consolidate their space surveillance requirements for a common capability; (8) a coordinated interagency plan that considers all existing and planned space surveillance capabilities could be beneficial in making cost-effective decisions to satisfy a consolidated set of national security and civil space surveillance requirements; (9) unless DOD and NASA can agree on such a plan, an opportunity may be missed to simultaneously: (a) achieve efficiencies; (b) better ensure the safety of the planned multibillion dollar space station; and (c) help satisfy national security needs, including the U.S. forces' future needs for space asset information.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of NASA, in consultation with the Director of Central Intelligence, should establish a consolidated set of governmentwide space surveillance requirements for evaluating current capabilities and future architectures to support NASA's, DOD's, and other federal agencies' space programs and surveillance information needs.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA provided its space surveillance requirements to the U.S. Space Command in August 1997. NASA indicated, as of February 1998, that the U.S. Space Command was integrating these requirements with DOD requirements into a single U.S. Space Command space surveillance requirements document. NASA believes that its action fully satisfies its responsibility under this recommendation. As of May 1998, the U.S. Space Command had inserted three near-term requirements into a new space surveillance capstone requirements document. The requirements document was validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council in December 1998. The document is to be used by DOD as: (1) the defining set of requirements for development of future space surveillance systems; and (2) the basis for cost/burden sharing discussions between NASA and DOD.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of NASA, in consultation with the Director of Central Intelligence, should establish a consolidated set of governmentwide space surveillance requirements for evaluating current capabilities and future architectures to support NASA's, DOD's, and other federal agencies' space programs and surveillance information needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that it supports the establishment of a governmentwide group to consolidate space surveillance requirements. DOD also stated that it would be critical for such a group to develop a near-term policy on cost/burden sharing for resolution of the consolidated requirements. As of May 1998, the U.S. Space Command had inserted three near-term requirements into a new space surveillance capstone requirements document. The requirements document was validated by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council in December 1998. The document is to be used by DOD as: (1) the defining set of requirements for development of future space surveillance systems; and (2) the basis for cost/burden sharing discussions between NASA and DOD.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator of NASA, in consultation with the Director of Central Intelligence, should develop a coordinated governmentwide space surveillance plan that: (1) sets forth and evaluates all feasible alternative capabilities to support human space flight and emerging national security requirements; and (2) ensures that any planned funding for space surveillance upgrades is directed toward satisfying consolidated governmentwide requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that it agreed with the need for a coordinated government wide space surveillance plan once the consolidated requirements and cost/burden sharing policy have been established.

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