Assured Access to Space: Far From Assured

Posted: September 29, 2010 in Uncategorized
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From Government Executive.com:

U.S. national security space capabilities, so critical to deployed combat forces and national missile defense, and the supporting industrial base are at a dangerous “tipping point” and need focused leadership and long-term stability in programs and budgets to avoid a crisis, a panel of administration officials and defense space experts warned Tuesday.

So what’s the frequency, Kenneth?  A space “tipping point” is driven by both external and internal risk.

The poster child for external risk would be China’s 2007 ASAT demonstration.  Its evil internal risk twin (and co-poster child) is the U.S. space industrial base.  Industrial base space challenges include restrictive export controls, unstable program funding, soaring costs, capability that’s delivered late, and aging space infrastructure.

OK, but how about a suggested way ahead?  As Steve Martin would say, ‘let’s get small.’

‘Getting small’ might mean smaller (but more stable) space programs; fewer exquisite space capabilities; more commercial and government off the shelf; and, cheaper and faster ways to deliver on-orbit capabilities (or even not-on-orbit solutions if UAVs, high altitude balloons, or the likes can do the job).

GTI reports

James Miller, the principle undersecretary of defense for policy, said he saw “major challenges and opportunities” in the long-term national security space program. The administration is working on a new space policy, export control changes and a 15-year space budget as steps to improve defense space capabilities.

And…

Steven Miller, a Pentagon cost analyst, said, “We don’t have anything in the barn. Assured access [to space] depends on having those systems and the ability to get them into space.”

That’s Steven Miller, the analyst and not Steve Miller, the Space Cowboy.  And Steven Miller is totally on target in flagging an important issue: do we have assured space access if it takes three to five years to get a capability on-orbit?

The “challenges” James Miller mentions seem self-evident: external players like China and internal issues, including the cost, schedule, and performance of space systems.  The “opportunities” are certain to be the usual suspects: multilateral/international cooperation, improved acquisition processes, and/or efficiency initiatives like leveraging civil and commercial systems.

The challenges Steven Miller touches on–that is, of always having the space capabilities we need–are much more problematic.  The general space state-of-health (few or no backups, plenty of single point failures, and a non-responsive space restoral capability due to excessive lead times) will take time, money, and leadership focus to address, or in lieu of those things, a willingness to assume additional risk.

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