oversight

Satellite Control Systems: Opportunity for DOD to Implement Space Policy and Integrate Capabilities

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-05-17.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee
                  on Defense, Committee
                  on Appropriations, House of
                  Representatives

May 1999
                  SATELLITE
                  CONTROL SYSTEMS

                  Opportunity for
                  DOD to Implement
                  Space Policy and
                  Integrate Capabilities




GAO/NSIAD-99-81
United States General Accounting Office                                                                National Security and
Washington, D.C. 20548                    Leter
                                                                                                International Affairs Division



                                    B-280224                                                                                      Letter

                                    May 17, 1999

                                    The Honorable Jerry Lewis
                                    Chairman, Subcommittee on Defense
                                    Committee on Appropriations
                                    House of Representatives

                                    Dear Mr. Chairman:

                                    As requested, we (1) reviewed the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
                                    progress in integrating and improving its satellite control capabilities and in
                                    fostering integrated and interoperable satellite control within the
                                    government, as directed by the 1996 national space policy and
                                    (2) determined whether opportunities exist for DOD to standardize its
                                    satellite control capabilities by using commercial products and practices.



Results in Brief                    DOD has made minimal progress in integrating and improving its satellite
                                    control capabilities in accordance with 1996 national space policy. In 1992,
                                    DOD identified a need for an integrated satellite control system to achieve
                                    standardization and interoperability across military services and individual
                                    satellite programs.1 In 1995, the Air Force, which controls most of DOD’s
                                    satellites, characterized its satellite control capabilities as aging,
                                    inefficient, and costly to operate. The Air Force initiated an effort to
                                    standardize these capabilities and achieve full implementation in 2003—a
                                    first step toward an integrated and interoperable DOD capability. Air Force
                                    officials chose to proceed with a conceptual design over operational
                                    alternatives. However, in 1997, the Air Force terminated this effort because
                                    of schedule delays resulting from software development problems and the
                                    additional amount of software that needed to be written. Air Force Space
                                    Command representatives are now recommending that the use of the Air
                                    Force’s existing satellite control capabilities be extended to 2005 to provide
                                    time to acquire an improved capability. Until then, the Air Force will be
                                    unable to reduce approximately $400 million it spends annually to operate,



                                    1
                                     In this context, standardization means cooperation among agencies for efficient use of resources and
                                    for the adoption of common, compatible, or interchangeable components or equipment.
                                    Interoperability means the ability of systems to provide services to, and accept services from, other
                                    systems and to use the services so exchanged to enable the systems to operate effectively together.




                   Leter            Page 1                                               GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
             B-280224




             maintain, sustain, and modernize satellite control capabilities. The Navy’s
             satellite control capabilities are not as old, inefficient, or costly to operate
             as the Air Force’s capabilities. Although the Navy upgraded its capabilities
             in the early 1990s, another upgrade is planned because the company that
             provided the existing capabilities no longer provides software support
             services.

             DOD has taken limited action to foster integrated and interoperable
             satellite control for all government space activities since it was directed to
             do so by the 1996 national space policy. Prior studies recommended that a
             high-level interagency management group be established to oversee
             implementation of integrated systems across agency lines. Although DOD
             established a senior steering group in 1998 to address national security
             space management and integration issues, government space agencies
             continue to plan for satellite control capabilities on an independent basis
             rather than coordinate and integrate their efforts on an interagency basis.

             Considering the long-standing need to replace the Air Force’s aging and
             costly satellite control capabilities and the Navy’s more recent plan to
             upgrade its capabilities, DOD has an opportunity to revitalize its effort to
             achieve integrated satellite control by acquiring a standardized capability. A
             resumed search for such a capability is appropriate because it would also
             provide an opportunity to review Air Force satellite control decisions for
             future space-based infrared and communication satellite programs that are
             currently in development. Commercial off-the-shelf products that could
             perform core functions for controlling satellites are available, and several
             studies have advocated the use of such products. In making a selection
             among alternatives, DOD could reduce acquisition risk by employing best
             commercial practices—a key element of DOD’s acquisition reform
             initiatives. Commercial firms place a premium on demonstrated
             performance before making critical decisions rather than on predicted
             performance, as was the case with the Air Force’s 1995 selection.

             We are recommending that the Secretary of Defense take actions to
             revitalize efforts to (1) integrate and improve DOD’s satellite control
             capabilities, using commercial products and practices and (2) foster
             integration and interoperability of satellite control among government
             space activities.



Background   Satellite control systems are used to ensure that satellites reach their
             planned orbits and perform their intended missions while in orbit. There



             Page 2                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




are two types of satellite control operations—platform control and payload
control. Platform controls involves monitoring the health and status and
managing the operations of a satellite’s physical structure, sometimes
called the bus. Payload controls involves monitoring the health and status
and managing the operations of a satellite’s mission equipment. Specific
satellite control functions consist of (1) locating satellites and receiving
and processing data from them, (2) following satellites’ motion over time,
and (3) transmitting signals to satellites. These three functions are called
telemetry, tracking, and commanding and are performed by a network of
ground command and control centers, ground antennas, and
communication capabilities between the centers, antennas, and satellites.2

There are two types of satellite control networks—common and
dedicated.3 DOD operates two common networks that provide primary or
backup control for communications, environmental monitoring,
navigation, and intelligence satellites. Examples include the Defense
Satellite Communications System, Defense Meteorological Satellite
Program, and Global Positioning System. DOD also operates several
dedicated networks that control missile warning, communications, and
intelligence missions. Examples include the Defense Support Program and
Milstar Communications System.

The Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) is the larger of the two
common networks. It supports essentially all national security (defense
and intelligence) satellites during launch and early orbit periods and is used
to analyze anomalies affecting orbiting satellites. For certain satellite
constellations, AFSCN provides essentially all the routine control functions
needed throughout the satellite systems’ lifetime. AFSCN capabilities
consist of two command and control centers located at Schriever Air Force
Base, Colorado, and Onizuka Air Force Base, California; antennas
dispersed throughout the world; and associated communications
capabilities.



2In this report, we focused on computer systems used at command and control centers to perform
satellite control functions.

3
 A common network generally performs platform control for multiple satellite constellations, allowing
its ground antennas and core data processing capabilities to be shared among many satellites and
therefore reducing costs. Some unique data processing capabilities, however, may be needed for a
particular satellite system. A dedicated network generally performs platform and payload control for
one satellite constellation; thus no sharing of its capabilities with other satellite constellations takes
place. Some reasons for dedicated networks are: (1) continuous contact must be maintained with
certain satellites and (2) special radio frequencies or high data rates are sometimes used.




Page 3                                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                           B-280224




                           The Naval Satellite Control Network (NSCN)—the smaller of the two
                           common networks—controls different satellite constellations. NSCN is to
                           undertake increasing responsibilities in 1999 because the control functions
                           for a constellation of communication satellites are to be transferred from
                           AFSCN to NSCN. NSCN capabilities consist of a primary command and
                           control center at Point Mugu, California, with backup capabilities in
                           Colorado and Maine; antennas in Guam, California, and Maine; and
                           associated communication capabilities.

                           In a May 1996 report, we discussed opportunities for (1) standardization
                           and interoperability among government satellite control networks and
                           (2) cost savings and greater efficiencies through network consolidation.
                           The three government space sectors—defense, intelligence and civil—were
                           operating separate satellite control networks to satisfy their individual
                           satellite program needs. These sectors were spending several hundred
                           million dollars a year to control their satellites or missions, were planning
                           on upgrading their satellite control systems during the next 5 years, and did
                           not have the necessary impetus or direction for more efficient use of the
                           nation’s satellite control resources. As a result, we recommended that a
                           national policy be developed to direct integration, consolidation, and
                           sharing, to the extent feasible, of the nation’s satellite control capabilities.4
                           In September 1996, the administration established a new national space
                           policy that included directions for DOD to (1) pursue integrated satellite
                           control and continue to enhance the robustness of its satellite control
                           capability and (2) coordinate with other departments and agencies, as
                           appropriate, to foster the integration and interoperability of satellite
                           control for all government space activities.



DOD Has Not                DOD has made minimal progress in integrating and improving its satellite
                           control capabilities in accordance with 1996 national space policy.
Effectively                Although the Air Force and Navy have merged some of their capabilities,
Implemented Policy         the Air Force was unsuccessful in acquiring a standardized satellite control
                           system. Also, DOD has taken limited action to foster integrated and
Guidelines for Satellite   interoperable satellite control for all government space activities, as the
Control                    1996 policy directed.




                           4
                             Satellite Control Capabilities: National Policy Could Help Consolidation and Cost Savings
                           (GAO/NSIAD-96-77, May 2, 1996).




                           Page 4                                                GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                                  B-280224




Minimal Progress to               Before the 1996 national space policy was established, DOD identified a
Integrate and Improve DOD         need for an integrated satellite control system, and the Air Force initiated
                                  an effort to replace its satellite control capabilities with a standardized
Capabilities
                                  satellite control system (SSCS). However, the Air Force’s effort was
                                  unsuccessful because of system development problems, and as a
                                  consequence the Air Force has continued with the costly, aging, and
                                  inefficient existing system for some satellite programs while seeking
                                  individual solutions for others. Several government satellite control studies
                                  have been performed that contain a common approach: integrate and
                                  upgrade satellite control capabilities to achieve efficiencies and
                                  economies. The Air Force is currently reviewing approaches to revitalize
                                  its effort for a satellite control solution.

                                  DOD has made some progress as a result of older studies, which
                                  recommended that the Air Force and the Navy merge their satellite control
                                  networks. The two services established a communications link between
                                  the main Air Force satellite operations center and the Navy satellite
                                  operations center, allowing the two services to gain access to each other’s
                                  satellite control antennas. Sharing antennas has allowed the Navy to close
                                  one antenna site, and there is the potential for closing another site, thus
                                  reducing costs. However, the two networks are not interoperable because
                                  they cannot control each other’s satellites or back up each other’s
                                  capabilities. Therefore, relative to study recommendations, the effort can
                                  only be characterized as minimal.

Control Systems Lack Necessary    In 1992, the U.S. Space Command—the military command responsible for
Capabilities and Need Upgrading   DOD’s space operations—identified a need for an integrated satellite
                                  control system because of several existing system deficiencies. The
                                  Command described the existing satellite infrastructure as fragmented,
                                  fragile, vulnerable, and lacking standardization and interoperability. In
                                  1994, the Air Force Space Command—the military command that operates
                                  AFSCN and provides space support for the majority of DOD’s satellites—
                                  identified the need for improved satellite control capabilities. The
                                  Command cited aging equipment, manpower and funding reductions,
                                  future satellite system requirements, and technological opportunities as
                                  reasons for needed network upgrades, stating that its network must
                                  become more responsive, standardized, and interoperable; easily
                                  expandable; and economical to operate and maintain. In 1995, the Air
                                  Force established operational requirements for new satellite control
                                  capabilities with the objective of maximizing the use of industry standards
                                  and commercial or government off-the-shelf hardware, software, and




                                  Page 5                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                                  B-280224




                                  communications if they reduce acquisition timelines and operations and
                                  maintenance costs.5

                                  The existing AFSCN’s command and control capabilities were designed in
                                  the early 1980s and include a centralized mainframe computer system, in
                                  contrast to a modern distributed workstation design. According to Air
                                  Force documentation, much of the software was written in old,
                                  customized, and proprietary languages that resulted in (1) lack of
                                  standardization and interoperability, (2) increasing operations and
                                  maintenance costs, and (3) difficulties in responding to system requirement
                                  changes or accommodating new systems. The Air Force budgets over
                                  $400 million annually for AFSCN operations, maintenance, sustainment,
                                  and modernization. It programmed $2.2 billion for these purposes for fiscal
                                  years 1999-2003. Currently, the engineering sustainment contract is
                                  scheduled to expire in October 2003, and it is unclear whether the network
                                  can be sustained beyond that point.6 The sustainment contractor reported
                                  that there is moderate to high risk that several pieces of system hardware
                                  may not be supportable beyond 2003 because (1) critical parts can no
                                  longer be procured, (2) equivalent replacement parts have not been
                                  identified, or (3) capability to repair the parts no longer exists. Some Air
                                  Force representatives, however, are more optimistic that sustainment
                                  could be continued if necessary.

                                  The existing NSCN is a distributed command and control system that was
                                  designed in the early 1990s. The Navy budgets about $19 million annually to
                                  operate, maintain, sustain, and modernize the NSCN. It programmed
                                  $95 million for these purposes for fiscal years 1999-2003. The Navy is
                                  planning to upgrade NSCN because the company that provided the existing
                                  computers is no longer providing associated software support services.
                                  Navy representatives informed us that they plan to begin evaluating system
                                  alternatives in fiscal year 2001 and complete the replacement of NSCN’s
                                  data processing capabilities in fiscal year 2003.

Air Force Effort to Standardize   In 1995, the Air Force initiated an effort to replace the AFSCN’s command
Capabilities Was Unsuccessful     and control capabilities with SSCS and achieve full implementation in fiscal


                                  5Inthis report, the terms commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the-shelf mean products
                                  developed and produced for general and government use, respectively, that have applicability to, and
                                  use for, satellite control systems without major modification or change.

                                  6
                                   Engineering sustainment involves design and planning for replacement, or continued supply, of parts
                                  needed to prolong a system’s ability to perform its mission.




                                  Page 6                                               GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




year 2003. The purpose was to establish a standard and interoperable
satellite control system for multiple DOD satellite programs that was more
responsive, dependable, and cost-effective than the existing system.
Following an initial screening of several candidate systems that were to
serve as a basis for SSCS, four were selected for detailed evaluation. They
were (1) the Distributed Command and Control System (DCCS)—a
conceptual system being developed for the National Reconnaissance
Office; (2) Commercial Off-the-Shelf—Based Research Architecture
(COBRA)—a system being used by the Air Force to control research and
development satellites; (3) OS/Comet—a system being used by the Naval
Research Laboratory; and (4) the Shuttle Mission Control System—a
capability being used by the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA). None of the four systems satisfied all
requirements; therefore, modifications would have been necessary for any
system chosen.

The Air Force selected DCCS as the baseline system, concluding that this
developmental design (1) would provide the best architecture and
functional capabilities, (2) would provide a core software system
standardized over a broader group of satellite systems, and (3) would
require less modification than the other candidate systems. However,
according to Air Force officials involved in the evaluation process, less was
known about DCCS than the other candidates. For example, DCCS had not
passed its critical design review—a key point in the acquisition of a system
to assess design maturity—whereas the other three candidates were
operational.

The DCCS design subsequently encountered development problems,
requiring design changes and resulting in schedule delays. The design
changes (1) fundamentally altered the DCCS architecture, restricting the
hardware that could be used and (2) substantially increased the lines of
software code that Air Force officials estimated would have to be
developed to derive SSCS. Because of these system development problems,
Air Force officials concluded that DCCS would not meet Air Force needs or
schedule. In October 1997, the Air Force terminated its SSCS effort.

By choosing DCCS instead of an operational system about which it had
more knowledge, the Air Force took a significant risk and was ultimately
left without a standardized satellite control capability. This choice appears
inconsistent with the Air Force’s 1995 requirements calling for maximum
use of off-the-shelf technology. It also runs counter to the practice of
leading commercial firms, which want proof that a technological concept



Page 7                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                            B-280224




                            will work and can be delivered on schedule. Thus, the Air Force’s choice to
                            proceed with this developmental design would have likely presented too
                            high a risk for a commercial firm.7

Consequences of No          More than 1 year after the Air Force terminated its SSCS effort, no renewed
Standardized Capabilities   effort had been formally initiated. As a consequence, AFSCN command and
                            control operations, which the Air Force has described as costly and
                            manpower-intensive, may need to be extended to support existing satellite
                            programs. Also, managers for the future Space-Based Infrared System
                            (SBIRS), who planned to use SSCS, had to continue implementing an
                            individualized satellite control solution.

                            Almost all national security satellites are dependent on AFSCN to reach
                            their intended orbit, and several existing satellite programs such as the
                            Defense Satellite Communications System are dependent on AFSCN for
                            routine satellite control functions. Therefore, until the Air Force replaces
                            the AFSCN’s command and control capabilities with a less costly,
                            standardized capability, it will be unable to reduce approximately
                            $400 million it spends annually to operate, maintain, sustain, and
                            modernize AFSCN. Replacing these capabilities is intended to reduce
                            operations, maintenance, and sustainment costs. Air Force Space
                            Command representatives informed us they were recommending that a
                            contract be awarded in fiscal year 2001 to replace the command and
                            control capabilities in fiscal year 2005. This would be 2 years later than the
                            original plan to achieve full implementation of SSCS. At the end of our
                            review, formal approval and budgeting for this recommendation had not yet
                            occurred.

                            Air Force managers of SBIRS—a satellite system being developed to
                            replace an older satellite system to provide strategic and theater ballistic
                            missile warning and defense capability—had planned to use SSCS, when it
                            became available, as the system’s core satellite control capability. Because
                            SSCS was not expected to be available for the first phase of the program,
                            Air Force managers made plans to use a satellite control system called
                            SCS-21 that was being developed by the SBIRS prime contractor. They
                            planned to transition to SSCS for the second phase. However, when the
                            SSCS effort was terminated, the managers chose a commercial off-the-shelf
                            version of SCS-21 that was also being provided by the SBIRS prime


                            7
                             See Best Practices: Successful Application to Weapon Acquisitions Requires Changes in DOD’s
                            Environment (GAO/NSIAD-98-56, Feb. 24, 1998).




                            Page 8                                             GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                                   B-280224




                                   contractor. According to program representatives, the SCS-21 core
                                   software will provide many, but not all, the satellite control functions
                                   needed by the SBIRS program. Capabilities to address the extra functions
                                   are being added to the core software, but no changes are being made that
                                   would affect the commercial off-the-shelf properties of the core software.
                                   Although this is an individualized satellite control solution, maintaining
                                   these commercial properties should make subsequent versions of the
                                   commercially available SCS-21 core software easy to install.

Several Studies Have Been          Prior to the 1996 national space policy, DOD led or participated in several
Performed, but a Solution Is Not   studies that discussed intra-agency and interagency satellite control
Yet Available                      capabilities. These studies contained a common approach: integrate and
                                   upgrade satellite control capabilities to achieve efficiencies and
                                   economies. We discussed portions of four different studies in our May 1996
                                   report. Since the 1996 national space policy was established, DOD
                                   components have performed several other studies that address satellite
                                   control. However, they were all long-range studies, and at the end of our
                                   review in April 1999, no decisions or implementing actions had been taken
                                   on them. We discuss three examples below.

                                   • In December 1997, the DOD Space Architect completed a satellite
                                     operations study to develop architecture alternatives for the 2010-2015
                                     time frame in support of defense, intelligence, and civil space sector
                                     needs. The draft report included alternative assessments that both
                                     emphasized and de-emphasized interoperability. It stated that the lack of
                                     satellite operations standardization prevents resource sharing and
                                     interoperability within and between federal agencies and the
                                     commercial and international community. Although the draft report
                                     stated that increased interoperability was beneficial, it also stated that
                                     analytical attempts to quantify the value of interoperability in terms of
                                     cost and performance were inconclusive. In addition, the draft report
                                     discussed various ways of using commercial products and services for
                                     satellite operations, including advantages—cost savings, increased
                                     performance, and government personnel reductions—and
                                     disadvantages—market dependency and proprietary interest. At the end
                                     of our review in April 1999, the Architect’s final report had not been
                                     released.
                                   • In March 1998, the U.S. Space Command published its long-range plan,
                                     which represented a guide for achieving the Command’s vision of how
                                     military space strategy would evolve in the 21st century, specifically to
                                     2020. The Command stated that because the operational techniques of
                                     many military satellites closely parallel those of commercial systems,



                                   Page 9                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                           B-280224




                             private industry may be able to operate military systems for less money
                             and military personnel could be transferred from satellite operations
                             functions to core military functions. In commenting on a draft of our
                             report, DOD officials stated that although it may be feasible for private
                             industry to operate military satellites, the effect on national security has
                             not been addressed.
                           • In November 1998, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board issued a
                             report titled, “A Space Roadmap for the 21st Century Aerospace Force,”
                             which included an assessment of satellite operations. One of the report’s
                             findings was that commercial satellite ground operations are far less
                             people-intensive and far more efficient overall than military systems,
                             representing an important potential source of savings. In elaborating,
                             the report stated that existing military satellite operations were costly,
                             mostly proprietary, user unfriendly, increasingly difficult to support, and
                             difficult to upgrade. The report recommended that (1) opportunities be
                             evaluated to make selective investments in commercial off-the-shelf
                             software packages for legacy satellite systems and (2) best commercial
                             practices be used to acquire future satellite control systems.

                           Given the consequences of terminating SSCS, Air Force Space Command
                           representatives are reviewing alternative approaches to acquire modern
                           satellite control capabilities. Specifically, they are (1) looking for an
                           approach to replace existing capabilities by 2005, (2) proposing to sustain
                           existing capabilities beyond the sustainment contract expiration date of
                           October 2003 until the replacement is available in fiscal year 2005, and
                           (3) attempting to identify viable options to accelerate replacement of
                           existing capabilities to fiscal year 2003. No decisions had been made on
                           these matters at the end of our review in April 1999, and the Air Force was
                           no closer to identifying and implementing a standardized and interoperable
                           satellite control system than it was in 1995.


Limited Action to Foster   DOD has taken limited action to foster integrated and interoperable
Integrated and             satellite control for all government space activities, as directed by the 1996
                           national space policy. Representatives within the Office of the Secretary of
Interoperable Government
                           Defense and the Departments of the Air Force and the Navy informed us
Satellite Control          that no formal coordination of such satellite control matters had taken
                           place. In July 1998, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central
                           Intelligence established revised procedures for the management of national
                           security (defense and intelligence) space programs and activities. In
                           commenting on a draft of our report, DOD acknowledged that greater
                           effort should be applied toward satellite control integration and



                           Page 10                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




interoperability and anticipated placing greater emphasis during the years
2000 to 2005. However, DOD commented that similar commitment must be
made by other government agencies involved in space activities to achieve
success.

Prior studies recommended that a high-level interagency management
group be established to oversee implementation of integrated systems
across agency lines. We made a similar recommendation in our May 1996
report. The revised national security management procedures for space
included establishing a National Security Space Senior Steering Group to
address space management and integration issues. However, government
space agencies continue to plan for satellite control capabilities on an
independent basis rather than coordinate and integrate their capabilities on
an interagency basis. For example, NASA recently contracted to
consolidate its space operations, including satellite control, at several
research centers with the long-term objective of increasing operational
effectiveness and efficiencies at reduced costs. According to NASA
officials, other agencies were not involved in the process of assessing
alternatives to achieving consolidated space operations at NASA’s centers,
although other agencies, including DOD, have expressed interest in NASA’s
activities.

Integrating satellite control capabilities on an interagency basis is feasible.
For example, under a separate national policy established in 1994, the
President directed convergence of DOD’s meteorological satellite system
and the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration’s (NOAA) environmental satellite system. NOAA provides
the primary satellite operations capability at its control center in Suitland,
Maryland, for both satellite systems. DOD provides backup satellite
operations capability for its system at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado.
In commenting on a draft of this report, DOD officials emphasized that this
satellite system convergence constituted significant action to foster
integrated and interoperable satellite control and has achieved certain
monetary advantages. However, they claimed that integrating the
operations of these systems has resulted in unclear lines of authority, less
timely military decision-making, and increased coordination requirements,
thus complicating military space planning. Such integrated operations may
require government agencies to revise their procedures and practices, but
should afford them an opportunity to achieve significant cost savings.




Page 11                                  GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                              B-280224




DOD Has an                    DOD has an opportunity to integrate Air Force and Navy satellite control
                              networks by revitalizing the effort to acquire a standardized satellite
Opportunity to                control capability. Such an effort would be timely, considering the Air
Revitalize Integrated         Force’s need and the Navy’s plans to replace each of their satellite control
                              capabilities by 2003. Commercial off-the-shelf products that perform core
Satellite Control Effort      satellite control functions and that have a demonstrated record of
                              performance are available. Several satellite control studies have advocated
                              the use of such products.


Resumed Search for            The Air Force has an opportunity to resume its search for a standard
Standard Core Capability Is   satellite control system. The unsuccessful attempt to replace its existing
                              capabilities with SSCS merely prolonged the retention of an aging and
Timely
                              costly system. The Air Force could consider introducing a replacement
                              capability in 2003, when the existing engineering sustainment contract
                              expires.

                              Also, now is an opportune time to review the SBIRS satellite control
                              decision made in 1997. Based on a fiscal year 2000 budget decision, DOD
                              plans to delay the first launch of SBIRS by 2 years—from 2002 to 2004.
                              Although the SCS-21 system may still be suitable for SBIRS, the planned
                              program delay has reduced the urgency of making a final satellite control
                              choice. It has also created an opportunity to consider other alternatives
                              that may have wider application for DOD satellites.

                              A decision needs to be made about what satellite control capabilities to use
                              for two future DOD communication satellite systems—the Gapfiller Super
                              High Frequency and Advanced Extremely High Frequency. DOD expects to
                              begin acquiring these satellite systems during the fiscal year 2001 time
                              frame. If a standardized satellite control system is not selected in time to
                              accommodate these satellites, the Air Force may be placed in a position of
                              having to (1) modify its existing capabilities or (2) acquire individual
                              satellite control solutions. Both choices would be undesirable.


Commercial Products Could     As discussed in the previous section, several studies over the years have
Provide Core Capability       advocated the use of commercial products to provide standard core
                              capability for satellite control functions. Most of these studies have
                              recognized that the government does not perform such unique satellite
                              control functions that commercial products could not satisfy requirements.
                              The most recent of these studies, by the Air Force Scientific Advisory



                              Page 12                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




Board, claimed that selective use of commercial off-the-shelf products
could have big payoffs. The Air Force is currently acquiring different
commercial satellite control packages for the Global Positioning System
and SBIRS. Although these and other alternatives are available, the Air
Force is not currently considering them to satisfy multiple satellite control
requirements. We discuss four examples below.

• One alternative system is COBRA, which was developed by an Air Force
  Space and Missile Center research office as a low-cost means of
  controlling research satellites. The COBRA system consists of multiple
  commercial off-the-shelf products integrated to form a whole satellite
  control capability. It was designed to control different types of
  satellites—a distinct advantage when searching for a standardized
  system to support multiple types of national security satellites.
  According to Center representatives, COBRA has been used to control
  three different research satellites and is to be used to control others. It
  also has demonstrated some capability to control DOD operational
  satellites such as the Milstar communication system and is currently
  controlling nonoperational Defense Support Program and Defense
  Satellite Communication System satellites. An earlier version of COBRA
  was not chosen as SSCS because the Air Force believed that more
  software modification would have been required than with the DCCS
  candidate.
• A second alternative is a system called OS/Comet, which is a
  commercial off-the-shelf product that the Air Force is currently
  acquiring to provide core satellite control capability for the Global
  Positioning System. To accommodate the unique characteristics of the
  satellite system, capabilities are being added to work with OS/Comet but
  no modifications are being made to the OS/Comet software. OS/Comet
  was developed to control satellite systems at the Naval Research
  Laboratory’s Blossom Point Tracking Facility, where it is still being used.
  It is now being made available by the development contractor as a
  commercial off-the-shelf product. Like the COBRA system, OS/Comet
  was a candidate for SSCS but was not chosen because the Air Force
  believed that more software modification would have been required
  than with the DCCS candidate. However, as an indicator of OS/Comet’s
  value, the Iridium company selected the system to control its
  constellation of 66 commercial communication satellites.
• A third alternative is a system called SCS-21, which the Air Force is
  currently acquiring to control SBIRS satellites. Similar to the COBRA
  system, SCS-21 includes commercial off-the-shelf products integrated
  into a package to provide core satellite control capabilities. The SBIRS



Page 13                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                            B-280224




                              contractor is adding capabilities to accommodate the unique
                              characteristics of the satellite system, but no modifications are being
                              made to the SCS-21 software. NASA representatives told us that they
                              plan to use SCS-21 under a consolidated space operations contract as
                              the core satellite control software at several research center, including
                              Goddard Space Flight Center, which controls numerous scientific
                              satellites.
                            • Although we did not perform an exhaustive search, nor do we endorse
                              any specific commercial product, other commercial satellite control
                              systems are available. One such standard system is Epoch 2000.
                              According to the developer, this off-the-shelf system was developed
                              through the experience in designing and implementing special control
                              systems for NASA’s scientific satellites and NOAA’s environmental
                              satellites. It is a modern, distributed software system that can be used
                              with many commercial hardware architectures and is being used to
                              control a variety of commercial communications satellites and
                              government scientific and resource monitoring satellites. The developer
                              told us that the functions performed by satellite control systems are not
                              substantially different among different satellite systems. Air Force
                              Space Command representatives told us that several private firms have
                              offered to demonstrate their commercial satellite control products.


Best Commercial Practices   As discussed above, in its effort to acquire SSCS, the Air Force selected a
Could Reduce Acquisition    conceptual system as a baseline, which had not passed its critical design
                            review and for which little was known, and ultimately encountered
Risk
                            development problems. Three other candidate systems were operational
                            but were not chosen. This approach is not consistent with best commercial
                            practices, in which a premium would have been placed on demonstrated
                            performance when selecting a product to be acquired. Instead, the Air
                            Force selected a product according to the product’s predicted performance
                            rather than its known performance.

                            In our February 1998 report, we noted that early in system development,
                            leading commercial firms gained more knowledge than DOD about how
                            well a prospective system would satisfy performance, cost, and schedule
                            requirements. This is because commercial firms essentially complete the
                            discovery process, accumulating knowledge and eliminating unknowns
                            about the system before major milestones such as critical design review are
                            passed. The first step—ensuring that technology is sufficiently obtainable
                            to warrant starting the program—is critical. DOD often accepts more




                            Page 14                                GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                  B-280224




                  unknowns in its programs than commercial firms and understates the risks
                  associated with these unknowns.



Conclusions       DOD has not effectively implemented the guidelines for satellite control as
                  set forth in the 1996 national space policy. DOD needs to integrate its
                  satellite control capabilities to reduce costs and inefficiencies. This could
                  be done through standardization and interoperability. Considering the Air
                  Force’s need and the Navy’s plan to upgrade their satellite control
                  capabilities, now is an opportune time for DOD to consolidate these
                  individual efforts to achieve an integrated approach. A sound plan toward
                  this end would consider using commercially available products and making
                  a selection based on best commercial practices employed by leading firms
                  to reduce acquisition risk.

                  DOD has taken limited action to foster integrated and interoperable
                  satellite control for all government space activities. Under 1996 national
                  space policy guidelines, DOD is obligated to coordinate with other
                  departments and agencies, as appropriate, regarding integration and
                  interoperability of satellite control. DOD’s recently established National
                  Security Space Senior Steering Group could be a useful mechanism for
                  guiding and overseeing such integration and interoperability. However, the
                  Senior Steering Group’s effectiveness at fostering interagency satellite
                  control integration and interoperability has yet to be demonstrated. It
                  would be timely for the Senior Steering Group to determine whether DOD’s
                  plans to replace its satellite control capabilities could be integrated with
                  NASA’s efforts to consolidate its satellite control operations.



Recommendations   We recommend that the Secretary of Defense direct the Secretaries of the
                  Air Force and the Navy to (1) consolidate their plans to replace existing Air
                  Force and Navy satellite control capabilities and (2) consider using
                  commercial off-the-shelf satellite control products and best commercial
                  practices in making a selection among alternative systems to satisfy core
                  satellite control requirements, thus limiting the need for unique
                  capabilities. We also recommend that the Secretary direct the Under
                  Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology; the Under Secretary
                  of Defense (Controller/Chief Financial Officer); and the Assistant Secretary
                  of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence to
                  only consider funding requests for such replacement efforts that make




                  Page 15                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                      B-280224




                      maximum use of commercial products and practices to achieve integrated
                      satellite control capabilities within DOD.

                      We further recommend that, in consonance with the development of DOD’s
                      plans to replace its satellite control capabilities, the Secretary take the lead
                      in ensuring that the National Security Space Senior Steering Group serves
                      as the forum for fostering and overseeing the integration and
                      interoperability of satellite control for all government space activities in
                      accordance with 1996 national space policy guidelines.



Agency Comments and   In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD agreed that more
                      integrated satellite activity should take place within DOD as well as across
Our Evaluation        defense, civil, and commercial space sectors. It stated that integrated
                      operations can lead to increased standardization, resulting in lower
                      satellite acquisition and operation costs. However, DOD pointed out that
                      such integration pursued primarily for the benefit of monetary savings has
                      the potential of limiting the ability of military forces to effectively carry out
                      their assigned missions. DOD officials emphasized the need to ensure
                      military control over such satellite integration. We agree that both cost
                      savings and the necessary military control are important and recognize that
                      integrated operations present new management challenges.

                      DOD commented that our draft report made several accurate observations
                      of recent and ongoing DOD satellite control planning and operational
                      activities but did not properly highlight some significant strides or realistic
                      obstacles. For example, DOD mentioned (1) the termination of fractured
                      and duplicative operations of communications satellites by the Air Force
                      and Navy and (2) satellite control compliant efforts, specifically the
                      convergence of DOD’s meteorological and the Department of Commerce’s
                      environmental satellites that was initiated prior to the establishment of the
                      1996 national space policy. These actions are discussed in the report.

                      DOD emphasized that fiscal realities cannot be ignored, stating that
                      replacing legacy systems is expensive and requires proper planning and
                      budgeting. We discussed the Air Force’s effort to standardize its satellite
                      control capabilities, which began in 1995, and stated that since terminating
                      this effort in 1997, the Air Force has not formally initiated renewed efforts.
                      We believe an opportunity now exists for DOD to renew its effort to
                      standardize these capabilities using commercially available products and
                      agree that effective planning and budgeting are critical.




                      Page 16                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




DOD partially agreed with our recommendation that the Secretary of
Defense direct the Secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to consolidate
their satellite control replacement plans and consider using commercial
off-the-shelf products and best commercial practices in making a selection.
DOD commented that it would not want to migrate toward a “monolithic”
satellite control capability, and we agree that such a capability may not be
the optimum solution. Instead, DOD stated that the question is how to
structure architectures so that national security and civil interests are
appropriately addressed and so that interoperability and commonality are
balanced against security requirements to protect DOD systems from
intrusion. DOD also stated that any resulting architecture should be built
incrementally and that consolidating satellite control capabilities is an
appropriate step in that direction. In doing so, DOD expects to take
advantage of increasing commercial space activity and to pursue
commercial off-the-shelf solutions for satellite control. We agree that
structuring architectures for controlling multiple types of satellites could
be difficult. Also, we believe that DOD’s intention to employ commercial
capabilities to address such diverse requirements is sound and that greater
efficiencies should be achievable by using a common core of satellite
control software capabilities.

DOD partially agreed with our recommendation that the Secretary of
Defense provide directions to only fund satellite control replacement
efforts that are designed to achieve integrated capabilities. DOD suggested
(1) adding the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control,
Communications, and Intelligence to implement those directions and
(2) including a reference to making maximum use of commercial products
and practices. We agreed and modified our recommendation.

DOD agreed with our recommendation that the Secretary of Defense take
the lead in establishing an interagency mechanism to provide a forum for
fostering and overseeing the integration and interoperability of satellite
control within the government. DOD commented that significant actions
in this regard have been taken, citing a memorandum of understanding
by the Secretary of Defense and Director of Central Intelligence dated
July 31, 1998, for national security space management. The memorandum
implements revised procedures for the management of DOD and
intelligence community space programs and activities as directed by a
Presidential Decision Directive. The memorandum establishes a National
Security Space Senior Steering Group, directing that all interested national
security and civil agencies be invited as members in the Senior Steering
Group’s deliberations, and a National Security Space Architect. We are



Page 17                                GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
              B-280224




              aware of this revised management structure and believe it could provide
              the proper interagency mechanism to fulfill the intent of the 1996 national
              space policy. Accordingly, we modified our recommendation to identify the
              Senior Steering Group as the appropriate interagency forum. However, the
              revised management structure had only been in effect for about 9 months
              when we completed our review in April 1999, and its effectiveness at
              fostering interagency satellite control integration and interoperability was
              yet to be demonstrated. Toward this end, it would be timely for the Senior
              Steering Group to determine whether DOD’s plans to replace its satellite
              control capabilities and NASA’s efforts to consolidate its satellite control
              operations could be integrated.

              DOD’s comments on a draft of this report are reprinted in their entirety in
              appendix I. DOD also provided technical comments on the draft report,
              which we incorporated as appropriate.



Scope and     To review DOD’s efforts to integrate and improve its satellite control
              capabilities, we evaluated Defense, Air Force, and Navy plans,
Methodology   requirements, programs, budgets, and studies associated with current and
              future satellite control capabilities. To review DOD’s efforts to foster
              integrated and interoperable satellite control within the government, we
              discussed the extent of interagency actions with defense and civil agency
              representatives. To identify opportunities for integrating satellite control,
              we discussed the status and capabilities of government-owned and
              commercially available products for satellite control with several
              government agency and private organization representatives.

              We performed our work primarily at the Air Force Space Command,
              Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at several Air Force Space and Missile
              Systems Center offices at El Segundo, California; Albuquerque, New
              Mexico; and Colorado Springs, Colorado. To obtain additional information
              and explanations, we met with representatives from the Office of the
              Secretary of Defense; Department of the Air Force; Department of the
              Navy; Office of the DOD Space Architect; and NASA in Washington, D.C.
              We also obtained information from the U.S. Space Command, Colorado
              Springs, Colorado; Naval Space Command, Dahlgren, Virginia; NASA’s
              Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; NASA’s Johnson Space
              Center, Houston, Texas; NOAA’s Satellite Operations Center, Suitland,
              Maryland; Naval Satellite Operations Center, Point Mugu, California; and
              Naval Research Laboratory’s Satellite Tracking Facility, Blossom Point,
              Maryland.



              Page 18                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
B-280224




To obtain information on the availability and applicability of commercial
satellite control products, we held discussions with officials representing
Integral Systems, Incorporated, Lanham, Maryland; Raytheon Systems
Company, Aurora, Colorado; Lockheed Martin Space Operations Company,
Houston, Texas; and Software Technology, Incorporated, Alexandria,
Virginia, and Denver, Colorado. These companies have developed satellite
control systems for the various government organizations included in our
review as well as for commercial satellite system operations.

We performed our review from May 1998 through April 1999 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.


We are sending copies of this report to Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Senator
Carl Levin, Senator Ted Stevens, Senator John W. Warner, Representative
John P. Murtha, Representative Ike Skelton, and Representative Floyd D.
Spence in their capacities as Chairs or Ranking Minority Members of
Senate and House Committees and Subcommittees. We are also sending
copies of this report to the Honorable William S. Cohen, Secretary of
Defense; the Honorable F. Whitten Peters, Acting Secretary of the Air
Force; the Honorable Richard Danzig, Secretary of the Navy; the Honorable
Jacob Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget; and the Honorable
George J. Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence. Copies will also be made
available to others upon request.

If you or your staff have any questions concerning this report, please call
me on (202) 512-4841. Major contributors to this report are listed in
appendix II.

Sincerely yours,




Louis J. Rodrigues
Director, Defense Acquisitions Issues




Page 19                                 GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Contents



Letter                                                                                          1


Appendix I                                                                                     22
Comments From the
Department of Defense

Appendix II                                                                                    28
Major Contributors
to This Report




                        Abbreviations
                        AFSCN      Air Force Satellite Control Network
                        COBRA      Commercial Off-the-Shelf—Based Research Architecture
                        DCCS       Distributed Command and Control System
                        DOD        Department of Defense
                        NASA       National Aeronautics and Space Administration
                        NOAA       National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
                        NSCN       Naval Satellite Control Network
                        SBIRS      Space-Based Infrared System
                        SSCS       Standardized Satellite Control System


                        Page 20                          GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Contents




Page 21    GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of Defense                                        AppeInxdi




Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in the
report text appear at the
end of this appendix.




                             Page 22   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Defense




Page 23                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the Department of Defense




Now on p.15.




See comment 1.




                 Page 24                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
                       Appendix I
                       Comments From the Department of Defense




Now on pp.15 and 16.




See comment 2.




Now on p.16.




                       Page 25                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Appendix I
Comments From the Department of Defense




Page 26                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
               Appendix I
               Comments From the Department of Defense




               The following are GAO’s comments on the Department of Defense’s (DOD)
               letter dated April 12, 1999.



GAO Comments   1. DOD’s comment about its recently completed satellite operations
               architecture study refers to a proposed recommendation contained in a
               draft of the Architect’s report that the satellite control functions for
               individual satellite systems should be integrated with the systems’ mission
               operations in the same radio frequency band. This comment concerns
               communications between satellites and ground command and control
               centers. Our review did not focus on this linkage. Instead, we focused on
               the computer systems located at the ground centers that process the data
               necessary to perform satellite control functions. In addition, we are aware
               of the proposed recommendation in the Architect’s draft report regarding
               the establishment of satellite autonomy goals to reduce the amount of
               needed ground operations. Although at the end of our review in April 1999
               the Architect’s final report had not been released, DOD officials provided
               no information that would alter our assessment.

               2. DOD noted that the Space Architect performed a cost-effectiveness
               analysis of dedicated versus common satellite control solutions and was
               unable to substantiate any cost savings for common solutions. We observed
               in a draft of the Architect’s report that, in an attempt to quantify differences
               between common and dedicated infrastructures, both of which included
               satellite mission and satellite control functions, the study team found that
               there was no significant life-cycle cost or performance differences between
               the two approaches. Although the consistency of these two statements is
               unclear, our review did not focus on the merits of dedicated versus
               common infrastructures. We focused on satellite control ground
               processing, irrespective of the type of infrastructure. In consonance with
               our approach, DOD stated that since commercial activity in space is
               increasing (1) there are a number of high-quality commercial products in
               the marketplace that are capable of controlling DOD satellites and
               (2) commercialization will enhance standardization and ensure lowest cost
               because of competition.




               Page 27                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Appendix II

Major Contributors to This Report                                                   AppIex
                                                                                         ndi




National Security and   Homer H. Thomson
                        James A. Elgas
International Affairs
Division, Washington,
D.C.

Denver Field Office     Frederick G. Day
                        Robert W. Stewart



Los Angeles Field       Larry J. Bridges
                        David G. Hubbell
Office




(707353)      L
              ertet     Page 28             GAO/NSIAD-99-81 Satellite Control Systems
Ordering Information

The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free.
Additional copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the
following address, accompanied by a check or money order made
out to the Superintendent of Documents, when necessary, VISA and
MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also.

Orders for 100 or more copies to be mailed to a single address are
discounted 25 percent.

Orders by mail:

U.S. General Accounting Office
P.O. Box 37050
Washington, DC 20013

or visit:

Room 1100
700 4th St. NW (corner of 4th and G Sts. NW)
U.S. General Accounting Office
Washington, DC

Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000
or by using fax number (202) 512-6061, or TDD (202) 512-2537.

Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and
testimony. To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any list
from the past 30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a touchtone
phone. A recorded menu will provide information on how to obtain
these lists.

For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET,
send an e-mail message with “info” in the body to:

info@www.gao.gov

or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at:

http://www.gao.gov
United States                       Bulk Rate
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                 Permit No. GI00
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Address Correction Requested