Air Force will provide assured access to space

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location – P

Gen. William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander, stressed the importance of maintaining assured access to space to the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during a hearing on the options for assuring domestic access to space, July 16.

“Space assets have been a key element of warfighting for over 30 years, providing a unique vantage to observe activity around the globe, relay terrestrial communications and provide precision position information,” Shelton said.

He explained the challenge is ensuring space services continue to be available, even as the space domain continues to change and evolve. The first step in this process is to assure access to space for national security payloads.

“The loss of even one national security payload – both in terms of financial loss and operations impact – would make our mission assurance costs look like cheap insurance,” he said. “We will continue to place emphasis on tough mission assurance principles to do all that is humanly possible to guard against launch failure.”

Shelton was joined by Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics the Honorable Alan F. Estevez; National Aeronautics and Space Administration Associate Administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.;  Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office Director Cristina T. Chaplain;  Aerospace Corporation Vice President of Program Assessments retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Howard J. Mitchell; Purdue University Department of Aeronautics and Aerospace Engineering Professor of Practice Daniel L. Dumbacher  and RAND Corporation Senior Engineer Dr. Yool Kim.

“The nation requires robust, responsive and resilient space transportation capabilities that enable and advance our space operations,” Estevez said. “The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program has provided launch services for critical national security payloads since 2002 with an unprecedented record of success.”

The growing costs of the EELV program caused the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to look at restructuring options, to provide the best capabilities at the lowest cost to the American taxpayer.

“The Air Force devised a strategy that balances efficient procurement of launch services, maintains mission assurance and reintroduces competition into the EELV program,” Estevez said. “Since restructuring the program, we have stopped the burgeoning cost of maintain a domestic launch capability, without sacrificing the rigor required to maintain mission success, then concurrently achieving the program’s two most important goals.”

The restructure allowed the Air Force to find savings within the program, without sacrificing quality.

“This year’s budget reduces the (EELV) program by $1.2 (billion),” Shelton said. “Combined with prior-year Air Force reductions and savings for the National Reconnaissance Office, we have reduced the total program by $4.4 billion from the baseline in the fiscal year ’12 budget.”

The strategy focuses on driving competition between private companies for the award of space launch contracts.

“The commercial space launch industry has made substantial progress over the last year,” Shelton said. “As a result, we are managing change in the EELV program from a single-provider environment to a multi-provider environment through a certification process. The phased introduction of competition through deliberate certification is the approach chosen to help lower launch costs while maintain a laser-like focus on mission assurance.”

One concern members of congress had for the panel of witnesses is the perceived reliance on the Russian RD-180 Rocket Engine, which fuels the Atlas V launch vehicle.

“The United States is not dependent or reliant on Russian technology to launch our critical space assets,” Estevez said. “The Delta IV launch vehicle has a domestically produced propulsion system that is capable of lifting all national security payloads.”

The alternative launch vehicle is more expensive, but the stockpile of RD-180 engines is expected to last up to two years in the event of supply disruption.

“While the RD-180 has served us well, current uncertainty highlights the need to consider other options for assured access to space,” Shelton said. “A domestically produced new engine program would revitalize the liquid rocket propulsion industrial base, end reliance on a foreign supplier and aid the competitive outlook for the entire domestic launch industry.”

The goal of the DoD remains assuring America’s access to space, while still providing economical decisions and processes to provide savings to the taxpayers.

“Air Force payloads provide foundational space capabilities to the joint warfighter and the nation, who collectively rely on these systems across a range of civil and military operations,” Shelton said. “We are committed to sustaining the highest levels of mission assurance, and our ultimate objective is to safely and reliably launch national security payloads on a schedule determined by the needs of the national security space enterprise. We look forward to continuing to provide resilient, capable and affordable space capabilities for the joint force and the nation.”