Space Situational Awareness:

Status of Efforts and Planned Budgets

GAO-16-6R: Published: Oct 8, 2015. Publicly Released: Oct 8, 2015.

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What GAO Found

Space systems provide critical capabilities essential for government and commercial operations. These systems are increasingly vulnerable to a variety of intentional and unintentional threats. The government relies primarily on the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Intelligence Community to provide Space Situational Awareness (SSA)—the current and predictive knowledge and characterization of space objects and the operational environment upon which space operations depend—to provide critical data for planning, operating, and protecting space assets and to inform government and military operations.

According to DOD, a potential of 375 sensors and systems—satellites, ground-based radars, and optical telescopes—are available to contribute to SSA across the government and commercial sectors. Currently, the primary sensors used are a core group of 8 dedicated and 18 multiple mission sensors. While DOD provides most of these sensors and systems, other entities—National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), intelligence community, and commercial companies—also provide data used for SSA. For much of the core group of sensors, DOD is leveraging assets by using sensors that perform other missions as their primary functions, such as sensors used for missile defense and missile warning. U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) is responsible for analyzing the data provided by the sensors and processing it into useable SSA information.

To support and sustain its SSA efforts over the next 5 years and to meet the expanded mission focus of SSA, DOD plans to relocate sensor systems; develop, field, and upgrade several additional sensors and systems; and develop new technologies. For example, the Air Force’s Space Fence program is developing one or more ground-based radars to track space objects that are smaller than those identified by current sensors, and the JSpOC Mission System program is developing and fielding a new command and control system designed to maintain the catalog of space object information and provide new analytical capabilities, such as providing real-time alerts of hostile actions toward U.S. sensors.

Based on data reported by the agencies, the government’s planned budget for SSA core efforts—DOD, NASA, and NOAA operations of sensors, upgrades, and new developments—averages about $1.0 billion per year for fiscal years 2015 through 2020. Table 1 summarizes the budget for SSA core efforts over the next several years.

Table 1: Budget for Space Situational Awareness Core Efforts—Fiscal Years 2015 to 2020                     (in millions of then-year dollars)

 

FY2015

FY2016

FY2017

FY2018

FY2019

FY2020

Operations and Payroll

604.0

661.3

651.4

656.5

642.8

646.2

New Sensors and Systems

328.1

393.5

350.7

272.2

267.7

265.2

Upgrades to Sensors and Systems

64.5

113.3

71.7

66.5