DOD Participation in the Space Transportation System:

Status and Issues

MASAD-81-6: Published: Feb 28, 1981. Publicly Released: Feb 28, 1981.

Additional Materials:


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The operational availability of the Space Transportation System (STS) has been delayed 3.5 years. Delays have resulted from identification of new requirements, funding constraints, and development difficulties with the system. To date there has been no known operational degradation in Department of Defense (DOD) space capabilities. However, the cost of DOD participation in the program has grown from about $1.2 billion to about $2.8 billion between fiscal years 1978 and 1982. Continuing uncertainties may further delay DOD use of the full capabilities offered by the system, increase the costs, or degrade future DOD operational capabilities in space. Problems incurred by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in meeting performance goals or milestones will effect DOD.

GAO is not sure that it has the most current and complete cost data on the program. The operational date of launch and landing facilities has been delayed 1.5 years. For classified missions, DOD needs secure communication lines. Full use of the Space Shuttle's capabilities is dependent on the availability of the NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System which may not be available until April 1983. If this system is not available by that date, then alternate secure command, control, and communications routes must be developed to support the first classified launch. The potential effects on operational dates and costs are not yet known. The inertial upper stage development program has experienced difficulties in achieving its required capabilities. The main contractor's underestimating the technical complexity of the program and inadequate management attention by the contractor and the Air Force were major factors resulting in the delays and cost growths. Areas of major uncertainty exist. Motor development efforts still are experiencing difficulties, and software will not be completely checked out until early 1982. There is a possibility that the airborne support equipment may have to be redesigned. Continued use of expendable launch vehicles (ELV) and/or more orbiters may be required. It is essential that Congress have a comprehensive understanding of the options available for meeting launch requirements, particularly critical DOD requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should provide Congress information on the total probable DOD funding requirements to achieve an operational STS capability, including STS-related costs funded by individual satellite and other programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the NASA Administrator should provide Congress with comprehensive information on the options being considered for maintaining an assured launch capability for defense and civil missions and the key assumptions, costs, and risks associated with each option. In addition to an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of continuing use of ELV's and/or increasing the number of orbiters, the information should also be provided on probable effects of canceling or delaying some noncritical flights until operational experience with STS is obtained.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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