Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Space)


Director, National Reconnaissance Office

JUNE 15, 1999

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the Air Force (AF), Department of Defense (DoD), and the Intelligence Community’s approach to space launch especially within the context of our larger approach to utilization of space. I note at the start that there have been a number of recent failures with both U.S. Government and commercial launches. I share with each of you a concern that we in the space launch business need to take corrective actions and resolve any broader systemic problems which may have contributed to the failures. There are a number of investigations on-going as well as more broad-based reviews of the U.S. Government approach to space launch now and into the future. We will discuss some of these efforts with you today. The ongoing accident investigations are by their nature not yet conclusive, as all potential contributing factors have not yet been examined. That said, I and the other AF witnesses here with you today will share our insight as to what is transpiring in the space launch arena. Specifically, we are prepared to address your questions concerning our current approach to space launch with its division of responsibilities between Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the various contractors who provide support to this critical area. We will briefly trace the development of the current launch contract structure, its evolution towards the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV), and the role of EELV in future space launch.

Criticality of US Space Capabilities and the Air Force Vision

Today, U.S. space capabilities are an indispensable tool of global leadership. They allow our political leaders to base decisions on remarkably detailed, timely, and accurate information. Space systems enable our military leaders to achieve dominant battlefield awareness by providing global communications, precision navigation, accurate meteorological data, early warning of missile launches, and near-real time signals and imagery intelligence support. The global presence of space systems makes it possible for the U.S. to more effectively respond to the wide range of threats presented by the post-Cold War world. A strong and reliable space launch capability is key to the nation’s continued dominance in space.

Current Launch Programs

The AF uses a variety of launch vehicles and facilities to provide space launch to the wide range of payloads necessary to meet today’s space mission. Multiple configurations of the heavy-lift Titan IV and the medium-lift Atlas and Delta rockets, with the appropriate upper stages (inertial upper stage and centaurs) provide the bulk of our current space launch capability. These systems operate from nine launch complexes in Florida and California. Satellites are typically manifested, designed, built, integrated, and launched on a specific booster configuration limiting our flexibility to adjust launch priorities in response to real world changes. Our current launch systems have served the nation well, but have not been flawless as evidenced by recent failures.

Division of Responsibilities

The AF has distinct roles identified for its current approach to space launch. As the AF prepares for a launch, SMC and the NRO are responsible for delivering flight-ready hardware to the launch sites and the integration of the satellites to the launch vehicle, while AFSPC ensures the space launch hardware is operationally checked out and safely launched. The Mission Success process begins early in a launch flow and involves many players. Multiple hardware reviews, beginning during production and culminating in a final launch readiness review just prior to launch, scrutinize hardware, software, and satellite/booster processing to minimize the chance of failure. The NRO maintains cradle-to-grave responsibility for all phases of its space reconnaissance systems, including acquisition, launch, and operations. The AF, in close partnership with the NRO, acquires launch services for NRO missions.

Government Oversight

Today, the AF takes an active role in the preparation for and launch of its expendable launch vehicles. While we no longer attempt to witness and control every step of the development, production, assembly, and final launch flow, we remain deeply engaged in the process from both a safety and mission success perspective. The AF and NRO each hold numerous reviews of their respective satellite and space launch vehicles as they prepare for launch. Government representatives (and Federally Funded Research and Development Contractors (FFRDCs)) participate in contractor-led design reviews, functional and physical audits, sub-system and system-level testing, as well as the AFSPC chaired Launch Readiness Reviews that determine readiness to proceed with launch. We continue to balance the level and number of these government reviews with the cost of providing such oversight and seek to effectively apply limited resources to ensure mission success.

On-Going Investigations

I am limited in what I can say about the on-going AF safety and accident investigations. These investigations, by their very nature, are closed to outside scrutiny until all the facts have been uncovered and weighed to ascertain the root causes of a particular failure. Although these investigations focus on the unique aspects of each individual launch failure, all people involved seek to find common causes or systemic elements between accidents.

The President has directed the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF), in coordination with the Director of Central Intelligence, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator, to provide him with a report in November 1999 on the causes of the failures and actions required to ensure our future access to space. The Secretary of the Air Force (SECAF) has been designated by the SECDEF as the executive agent to carry out the President’s request. Accordingly, the Acting SECAF and the Chief of Staff have charged AFSPC Commander, General Myers, to establish a broad area review. This review will examine recent launch failures, analyze causes, and recommend changes in practices, procedures, and operations that might prevent such failures in the future.

Retired AF Chief of Staff, General Larry Welch, will lead this review. The review will include participation by a broad spectrum of government and industry including involvement of other agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), NASA, NRO, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Office of Science and Technology Policy.

General Welch chaired a broad area review kick-off meeting on 4 June 1999. As Chairman of this review, General Welch reports directly to General Myers and me as Commander of AFSPC and Director of the NRO, respectively. Support to the Broad Area Review (BAR) will be facilitated by Mr. Lance Killoran, from the NRO and Major General Bill Looney, Air Force Space Command’s Director of Operations. General Looney and
Mr. Killoran are leading the review task force which is comprised of key stakeholders who are responsible for identifying critical elements of the review. The BAR will review the development, production, preparations, and launch of recent space mission failures. The review will include, but not be limited to, examination of launch practices, procedures, operations, acquisition, test and evaluation, launch readiness certification policies, and personnel qualification and training processes.

As you are aware, the National Security community has had three recent launch failures since the middle of last year. Last August, a Titan IV Centaur carrying an NRO satellite exploded about 40 seconds after liftoff. The launch community took corrective actions as a result of the investigation and the Titan IV fleet returned to service. Two additional launch failures occurred this year on 9 April (Defense Support Program, [DSP]) and 30 April (Milstar), with a successful Titan IV (NRO) launch on 22 May. Investigations of the two current launch failures are still ongoing. Preliminary indications show that the Titan IV operated properly in the 3 most recent launches. The current focus of the investigations is on the upper stages: the Inertial Upper Stage on the DSP mission and the Centaur Upper Stage on the Milstar mission. We have continued confidence in the Titan IV launch vehicle. Given the history above, the BAR scope is being carefully bounded for a proper breadth of investigation. The review will also examine inputs from the on-going safety and accident investigation boards. The BAR is scheduled to be complete by December 1999.

I am confident in our review team and the review process they have established. They’ve held their second meeting and are well underway to identifying and isolating the potential common intersections of these launch failures. The outcome of the review process will consist of recommendations to assure mission success and reduce the potential for future failures.

Current Space Launch Acquisition Strategy

Historically, AF launch programs have contained a mix of hardware production, payload integration, and launch services contracts. We incentivize contractors for mission success primarily with an award fee and the potential for future contracts. On our Titan IV production contract we used a mix of award fee and incentive fee whereby the contractor earns a share of any underrun on the contract. This arrangement worked well for Titan IV launches up through A-20 in August 1998. While the contract always considered mission safety and assurance as the number one priority, it could not guarantee 100 percent mission success. The results of the investigation of the August Titan IV failure indicated program quality problems. As a result, we restructured the contract to incentivize both savings and performance. We did this by establishing a share ratio table of savings based on mission success–higher success results in a larger share of an underrun. Commercial marketplace opportunities add to the contractor’s motivation. Because of the high risk inherent in space launch and the higher relative value of missions, the government self-insures our satellite launches. To mitigate the risk inherent in this approach, we have relied on extensive oversight using a mix of government and FFRDCs. This structure was complex, cumbersome, and expensive.

The current launch vehicles are based on Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile technology of the 1960’s. While they have adequate performance, they are manpower intensive and expensive. They were designed to maximize performance and not to provide economical access to orbit. Reliability was pursued through inspection and redundancy. For U.S. Government launches, the Titan II reliability is 100 percent (7/7), the Delta II is 97 percent (32/33), the Atlas II/IIAS is 100 percent (6/6), the Titan IVA is 90 percent (20/22), the Titan IVB is 100 percent (6/6), the Initial Upper Stage is 90 percent (18/20), and the Centaur upper stage is 94 percent (17/18). The overall success rate across the current fleet (Titan/Atlas/Delta) is 95 percent. But we can do better.

The EELV Operational Requirements Documents sets a mission reliability requirement of at least 97 percent for heavy missions and 97.5 percent for remaining missions. Today, the U.S. has two launch vehicle providers satisfying government and commercial medium and heavy launch requirements with five different launch vehicles. With EELV, two launch vehicle providers will employ two standardized families of launch vehicles to satisfy the same mission requirements.

In addition, it is worth noting that the EELV design is based on a government and industry teaming arrangement. The Government solicited and incorporated the commercial space industry needs early in the requirements generation process; consequently, EELV will accommodate both commercial and government spacelift missions. Each EELV provider will see a significant increase in the number of vehicles manufactured from a single production line. Because of the standardized configurations of each family (common boosters and booster engines for example) the contractors will be able to apply similar, best commercial manufacturing processes against an entire family of vehicles, ensuring a more reliable launch system.

Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)

On 16 October 1998, the EELV Program culminated a three year effort to begin modernizing the U.S. space launch fleet with the award of two $500 million EELV development agreements and two EELV Initial Launch Services (ILS) contracts valued at $2 billion. The ILS contracts cover 28 launches, 12 payload types, and 15 first-time payload integration efforts, with the first government launch in Fiscal Year (FY) 02 and the first commercial flights projected in FY01. In addition to the establishment of two internationally competitive commercial families of launch vehicles capable of meeting all government and commercial needs, EELV’s benefits include a 31 percent life cycle cost reduction over current Atlas, Delta, and Titan launch systems and $6.2 billion in validated savings. The EELV will provide enhanced mass-to-orbit capability, broader operational flexibility, over $1 billion in launch infrastructure upgrades, and the formal transition to commercial launch services for all AF and NRO payloads. Challenged with the primary goals of meeting DoD’s key performance parameters (mass-to-orbit, reliability, standardization) and reducing the cost of space launch by at least 25 percent over current launch systems, the EELV Program Team crafted and executed a comprehensive acquisition strategy. Their efforts simultaneously leveraged commercial competition and international market forces to reduce development risk, dramatically shorten first article delivery time to less than 36 months, incentivize industry investment of over $2.5 billion of their own funds, and create a true dual-use national launch system.

The EELV represents a quantum leap in product, process, and service improvements over current launch systems. Examples include the introduction of a standard payload interface (SIS), standard launch pads, and contractor assumption of all launch site operations and maintenance (O&M). The SIS, a common mechanical, electrical, and environmental payload to booster interface is an industry first. The benefits include a standard 24-month payload integration timeline, a common set of checkout/mating procedures, the ability to substitute payloads, and a rapid 45-day call-up capability (a 400 percent improvement over current 180-day call-up cycles). Beyond shortening integration timelines by up to 50 percent, streamlining integration activities, the SIS establishes a civil/military baseline for current and future satellite designs, potentially reducing payload development costs and schedules.

Standardized booster processing procedures are also reducing launch costs and shortening on-pad cycle time. The EELV is expected to be on the pad for one to eight days versus 30-120 days for today’s Delta, Atlas, and Titan systems. Pad operations have been further enhanced through the use of commercial launch operations and International Standards Organization 9000 quality standards versus old Military Standards. We believe the EELV program will provide the U.S with the critical launch capability necessary to compete more successfully for launch services in the international commercial marketplace and will ensure a more cost-effective space transportation capability for future national security space missions.

Impacts of Increasing Commercialization of Space Launch

In addition to the formal partnerships within the government, the AF and the NRO have reached out to private industry in some innovative ways. Until very recently, military and other government users have been the primary customers of the U.S. space industry. That trend, however, has taken a dramatic shift. Commercial space spending now outpaces government spending. Private industry now provides global communication services and exploits the navigation information transmitted by our Global Positioning Service constellation. Moreover, it will soon provide medium-resolution imagery from space. Industry is now in a position to lead, rather than follow, the government customers. The changes we’ve made to our launch procurement strategy reflect this new reality.

Built with a focus on cost savings, improved reliability, operability, and maintainability, the EELV team re-engineered the entire government launch process. No longer will the government buy individual launch vehicles tailored to specific missions, but instead the AF will buy a fixed price commercial “launch service,” ensuring for the first time the contractor will have total systems performance responsibility for each launch under a single contract for a single price. The launch service approach also allows the AF to radically downsize and streamline its program office and launch site operations, while focusing its remaining resources on insight of contractor processes versus oversight of individual launch vehicle production and launch operations.

This commercial approach, when coupled with contractor cost sharing and partnering arrangements, has permitted the contractors to lease government land, launch facilities, and support buildings, thereby reducing government launch site presence and ensuring equitable sharing of launch base O&M costs between government and commercial missions.

The EELV program has instituted a fundamental shift in the way DoD develops and acquires space related products and services. Cost sharing, civil/military integration, and commercial services are now part of DoD’s ever-growing acquisition reform arsenal.

Budgetary Stability

Through partnerships and investments, the AF is clearly positioned to continue its leadership role in space and is well on the way to achieving the vision of an integrated Aerospace Force. That is not to say, however, that the path will be easy. The AF must overcome important challenges to this vision. The primary challenge is funding.

When I testified before the full Committee in March, I discussed the challenges facing satellite reconnaissance and asked for assistance in providing a stable National Reconnaissance Program (NRP) budget. I was surprised when the Committee recommended a significant reduction to the NRP
FY 2000 launch request. This sizable funding reduction will force both the NRO and AF to reduce the number of critically skilled workers from an already limited production and operations workforce, and will reduce our ability to take any corrective actions identified by ongoing investigations. The nation can ill afford to increase launch risks at this critical time. Your support in restoring our FY 2000 launch request is the first step in reducing this risk.

I strongly believe the AF is committed to space. We have demonstrated this in our stable funding of key space programs and our increased investment in space-related technology. We’ve reached out to the rest of the government and to private industry to create relationships which increase our efficiency and effectiveness. Finally, we are looking hard at our own internal organization to ensure we are best positioned to exploit space and all that it offers the military and the nation. We do, however, need your help in providing stable funding. We must be fiscally prepared to maintain the readiness and force structure required for today’s challenges. Yet we must also prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. With your strong support the AF can vigorously exploit the technologies required to ensure continued dominance in space.


The AF and NRO are a proud team providing vital space launch and space operations. We face a number of technological and fiscal challenges in the near future. We are, however, poised to achieve our vision of an Aerospace Force that relies on a robust space launch capability to execute its space mission. As the investigations resulting from the recent launch failures are complete, we will be able to share our lessons learned. I ask that Congress support the AF’s efforts in space with a robust and stable budget that will allow us to maintain the reliable support to our warfighters and to the nation. We appreciate the continued strong support of the Congress.