- Press Release
- Oct 4, 2023
Air Force releases space launch review results
Air Force News Service
Released: 1 Dec 1999
Air Force releases space launch review results
By Tech. Sgt. R.R. Getsy, Air Force Print News
WASHINGTON — A comprehensive review of spacelift operations has ended, with the Air Force taking action to
improve the way it conducts its missions and assure continued access to space.
Tasked by the president and Defense Department officials to assess the spacelift program in light of recent launch
mishaps, the Air Force recently completed the DOD Assessment of Space Launch Failures report.
The report, based on independent industry reviews, AF accident
investigation board findings and an Air Force-National Reconnaissance Office-directed broad area review, concluded
workmanship-related deficiencies contributed to three Titan IV-related government space launch failures within the
past year and a half, totaling nearly $3 billion in losses.
In addition to the government launch failures, two Delta III commercial mishaps occurred during the same period of
time. The Air Force, the executive agency for spacelift functions, has already initiated corrective actions to address
However, concern due to the nature and timing of the five mishaps prompted the broader review of the failures and
actions being taken to help prevent future mishaps. As part of the DOD assessment, the Air Force space launch BAR
examined the complete launch process and forwarded recommended changes in its practices, procedures and
The focus of the BAR, said Col. C. Robert Kehler, special assistant to the director of programs, for the Air Force, was
“to take a step back and take a larger view and look for any underlying systemic problems.
“The BAR told us there are some issues with the way we have been doing business,” Kehler said. “We needed to take
steps to clarify the launch process, increase engineering and management support and make sure we have an
integrated rock-solid process as we transition to the evolved expendable launch vehicle.”
The launch BAR steering group, led by retired Gen. Larry D. Welch, included government and private industry
members of the space launch community.
Specifically, the group looked at the expendable launch vehicles and upper stages of the current Atlas, Delta and Titan
systems and the transition to the EELV, consisting of the Delta IV and Atlas V. The BAR did not address foreign launch
systems, the number of commercial expendable and reusable systems, or spacecraft post-separation operations and
The DOD assessment included 19 recommendations from the BAR group that apply to the current programs and the
EELVs. The BAR’s recommendations, included in the DOD assessment, outlined five key issues:
* the government must ensure industry acts to correct causes of recent failures and improve systems engineering
and process discipline;
* clear accountability for mission success for remaining launches and transition to EELV must be defined;
* the government and industry partnership must be enhanced with increased management, engineering support and
emphasis on mission success;
* a well-defined, coordinated and disseminated transition plan to EELVs should be completed;
* the government should build confidence in EELV reliability with enhancements and increased oversight.
“The Air Force leadership has closely followed the progress of the launch BAR and believes the review was conducted
in a fair and comprehensive manner,” said Gen. Lester Lyles, Air Force vice chief of staff. “We are diligently
addressing each observation, finding and recommendation.
“Over 777 missions have been launched (since 1958), providing the deployment of satellites for national security,
civil and commercial purposes,” Lyles noted. “The launches have also served as the backbone for the development and
growth of the U.S. space launch industry.
“Despite this success, launch still represents the highest risk phase in the life-cycle of satellites,” he said. “As such,
launch reliability, which has historically ranged between 94 to 95 percent, is of paramount concern.”
“While we recognize that 100-percent reliability is impossible in a business as complex as space launch, the men
and women of the Air Force will continue to strive for mission success,” said the general.
“We’ve determined the causes of the recent launch failures, have implemented corrective actions, and are taking
aggressive action to improve launch practices and procedures for future missions,” Lyles said.
“I’m confident the corrective actions resulting from this assessment will produce an even more reliable and robust
national security space capability for the United States.”
* Department of Defense Assessment of Space Launch Failures