The Defense Department and NASA together are expected to require nearly $44 billion for launch-related activities from fiscal years 2014 through 2018, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released this week.

GAO said procurement funding represents about $28 billion, some 65 percent, of this total, while research development test and evaluation (RDT&E) constitutes approximately $11 billion, or 26 percent. Both DoD and NASA anticipate that procurement funding needs will increase over the five-year period, with DoD planning for costs associated with its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, which acquires launch vehicles for military and intelligence satellites, and NASA for the transport of crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rockets are part of the Air Force’s EELV program. Photo: ULA.

DoD’s launch procurement needs overall exceed NASA’s–about $16 billion to the space agency’s $12 billion. Both DoD and NASA indicate that together their need for RDT&E launch funding requirements outpace the Pentagon’s, with DoD planning to spend about $10.5 billion for launch-related development in fiscal years ’14 through ’18. Of that amount, NASA anticipates the need for approximately $7 billion for the development of its own deep space launch vehicle, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), and the associated ground systems necessary to support human deep space exploration.

NASA’s RDT&E funding needs decline beginning in FY ’16 due to decreased investment in the commercial crew program, which funds commercial development of human spaceflight systems to support the ISS, GAO said. DoD is not investing heavily in RDT&E from fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and has budgeted about $719 million total for launch development efforts during those years.

GAO said it obtained and analyzed DoD and NASA top-level budget documentation, along with relevant funding from other government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that use either DoD or NASA as the launch agent for their satellites. GAO then aggregated the total amount of funding the agencies expect to require for launch-related activities from fiscal year 2014 through 2018. Dollar amounts are derived from President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, hence all dollars are presented in “then-year” or nominal dollars.

GAO said it could not separate launch costs from certain non-launch-related activities and that, specifically, NASA was unable to separate launch costs from ISS cargo and crew transportation costs. In these instances, all cargo and crew transportation costs are included in launch costs.

The Air Force, which handles DoD’s launches, said in May it was assessing a new approach to national security space launches in an era of declining defense budgets. Commercial satellite operator Intelsat General said in a July blog post that space launches could become a “major issue” if the federal government decides to utilize more hosted payloads because they ride on commercial satellites, which require competitive access to launches. Hosted payloads are where commercial satellites host government payloads (Defense Daily, Aug. 1).

The Air Force itself is trying to drive down the cost of national security space launches through competition via EELV. DoD last November authorized the competition of 14 launch “cores” to companies other than ULA. Both Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences [ORB] are trying to break into the EELV market (Defense Daily, Dec. 12).