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Space: Defense and Civilian Agencies Request Significant Funding for Launch-Related Activities

GAO-13-802R Published: Sep 09, 2013. Publicly Released: Sep 09, 2013.
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What GAO Found

Defense and civilian government agencies together expect to require significant funding--nearly $44 billion in "then-year" dollars that factor in anticipated future inflation--for launch-related activities from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. Procurement funding represents about $28 billion--some 65 percent--of this total, while Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) constitutes approximately $11 billion, or about 26 percent. Both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) anticipate that procurement funding needs will increase over the 5-year period, with DOD planning for costs associated with its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program--which acquires launch vehicles for U.S. military and intelligence satellites--and NASA for the transport of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Overall, DOD's launch procurement needs exceed NASA's--about $16 billion total to NASA's $12 billion. In contrast to procurement, the agencies indicate that together their need for RDT&E funding will decrease during the same period. NASA's expected RDT&E launch funding requirements outpace DOD's, with the agency planning to spend about $10.5 billion for launch-related development from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. Of that amount, NASA anticipates the need for approximately $7 billion for the development of its own deep space launch vehicle known as the Space Launch System, and the associated ground systems, to support human deep space exploration. NASA's RDT&E funding needs drop off beginning in fiscal year 2016 due to decreased investment in the commercial crew program, which funds commercial development of human spaceflight systems to support the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. DOD is not investing heavily in RDT&E from fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and has budgeted about $719 million total for launch development efforts during those years.

Why GAO Did This Study

In April 2013, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate, requested that GAO provide short- and long-term assessments examining impediments to economical procurement of government launch vehicles and launch services. As an initial step in response to this request, GAO is providing detailed information about the amount and types of funding government agencies expect to allocate to launch-related activities and infrastructure from fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

To conduct this work, GAO obtained and analyzed DOD and NASA top-level budget documentation (along with relevant funding from other government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that use either DOD or NASA as the launch agent for their satellites) and aggregated the total amount of funding the agencies expect to require for launch-related activities from fiscal year 2014 through 2018. For purposes of comparison between defense and civilian budget account types, GAO grouped DOD as well as civilian launch-related funding requests into three budget categories: Procurement; RDT&E; and Other. The budget category designated as "Other" includes DOD operations and maintenance, military construction, and military personnel, as well as NASA operations and support, construction of facilities, and civilian personnel. GAO discussed this methodology with DOD and NASA officials, who found it reasonable.

For more information, contact Cristina Chaplain at (202) 512-4841 or

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