Two of the Pentagon’s most ambitious satellite development programs face a potential mismatch between costs and available funding as well as schedule challenges, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned in a report released Aug. 2.

The congressional watchdog agency credited the Space Radar and Transformational Satellite Communications

System (T-Sat) programs with progress in terms of retiring technical risk, but said challenges remain.

T-Sat, a futuristic

constellation of highly secure communications satellites linked by lasers, is expected to be put under contract before the end of the year.

The prime contract award on the Space Radar, a next-generation surveillance system serving both the military and intelligence community,

currently is scheduled for 2009. Both systems are expected to begin launching around 2016.

T-Sat is estimated to have a total life cycle cost of $16 billion, and the Space Radar could cost between $20 billion and $25 billion, the GAO said.


are among the most costly space programs ever undertaken by

the Defense Department

, the GAO said.

Space Radar and T-Sat –

along with other new satellite and space control efforts as well as cost overruns on legacy programs –

will increase spending on “major” military space acquisition programs

from $6.31 billion to $9.22 billion annually

over the next three years, the report states.

At the same time, however,

long-term budget forecasts predict money to spend on military space acquisition will be tough to come by in the years ahead.

The U.S. Air Force’s total 2008 budget request for space-related programs is $11 billion, a 16 percent increase from the amount enacted for this year.


also is uncertain T-Sat and Space Radar will be able to stick to schedule, a problem common to many programs where the opportunity to score government dollars leads to optimistic schedule estimates and the suppression of bad news. T-Sat program officials “may have underestimated the time for design, integration and production activities,” the GAO warns.

The Pentagon’s Program Analysis

and Evaluation Office is concerned about the contractors’ ability to write enough software code in the scheduled timeframe because of the overall complexity of the program, the report said.

T-Sat also faces

work-force challenges as the size of the Air Force’s active duty personnel is planned to be reduced by 40,000 by the end of 2009, the report said.

Meanwhile, the Space Radar’s estimated

86-month timetable between program start and first launch

is less than what the Pentagon has needed for other complex satellite systems, the GAO noted.


there are five critical technologies that the Space Radar developers must “gain significant knowledge on” to be well positioned for success by the program start.

The report praised


officials for committing to delay program milestones when necessary to provide


for resources to meet requirements.

The report, “DOD is Making Progress in Adopting Best Practices for the Transformational Satellite Communications System and Space Radar but Still Faces Challenges

,” was presented in March to the House and Senate armed services committees.