Status Report

Testimony of Robert S. Dickman before the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

By SpaceRef Editor
March 19, 2004
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March 18, 2004

Testimony of
Mr. Robert S. Dickman, Deputy for Military Space, United States Air Force

Before the

House Committee on Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics On NASA-DoD Cooperation in Space and Aeronautics


While missions and requirements may not always be common, there will always be obvious synergies that allow a close relationship between the DoD and NASA. Our shared environment is hazardous, and we will continue to rely on each other’s experience and continued technical innovation to succeed.
In recent years, the Air Force (AF) and NASA have supported each other in a wide range of activities. The four major areas of cooperation were centered on interagency coordination, science and technology development, space operations, and human space flight activities.

NASA-DoD Interagency Coordination

While NASA and DoD have different primary missions, there is significant overlap in the science and technology (S&T) challenges both organizations face. DoD and NASA are aware of, and recognize this potential for, dual use and therefore, the importance of cooperation. To facilitate this cooperation, several forums are acting to promote collaborative planning.

Partnership Council – Initially established in February 1997 by Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) and NASA, this forum is at the most senior level of the planning process. The Partnership Council, consisting of the Honorable Peter B. Teets, Under Secretary of the Air Force and Director, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); Mr. Sean O’Keefe, NASA Administrator; Admiral James Ellis, Commander, USSTRATCOM; Dr. Ron Sega, Director Defense Research & Engineering; and General Lance Lord, Commander, AFSPC; is the primary forum for high-level discussions between the community. It is intended to achieve efficiencies, effectiveness, risk reduction, and better understanding of plans and activities in areas of mutual interest, to include S&T.

Monthly Meeting between Deputy for Military Space, Office of the Under Secretary of the Air Force; Director, National Security Space Integration; Director, National Security Space Architect; and NASA Space Architect – These National Security Space (NSS) principals and the NASA Space Architect meet regularly, and as needed, to improve the intermediate planning process and products, and implement opportunities identified by the Partnership Council.

Space Technology Alliance (STA) – The STA was initiated in 1997 among the AF, NRO, and NASA to foster cooperative efforts and improve communications
Other Planning Activities – NASA participates with the NSS community in conducting the annual NSS Program Assessment that, among other things, identifies interagency S&T cooperation opportunities. NASA also participates in the annual update of the NSS Plan that provides implementation guidance to the NSS community on desired capabilities, including S&T. In addition, NASA is participating with the DoD and the Intelligence Community in developing the Congressionally-directed DoD Space S&T Strategy, which will be complete in the summer of 2004.

There are a number of good examples of cooperation and mutual support between DoD and NASA over our long history of working together. These include launch and range support, communications, flight experiments, and environmental science. However, there is always room for improvement. We recognize this as being in the best interest of the nation and have therefore taken steps to strengthen our efforts with the recent initiation of monthly planning meetings and the development of the Space S&T Strategy.

There are, however, some important differences between NASA and the NSS community – one open by design, and one generally closed for national security reasons. For the most part, these differences can be overcome on S&T activities through appropriate collaborative planning.

Science and Technology Development

When our missions are common, when our technology requirements are similar, and when we can make the best use of our nation’s limited space infrastructure, both NASA and the DoD benefit from cooperative efforts in S&T development. Whether maneuvering in space, experimenting in space or communicating in space, there is shared workspace that leads to the best possible equipment, processes and procedures to ensure success, whether the mission is military or civil in nature. In developing basic technologies for launch systems, materials for use in space activities, or developing infrastructure to command and communicate with our space assets, DoD and NASA cooperation is key to making the most of our space dollars.

When resources, missions, and technologies are purely military in nature, we are not best served by collaborating. It is important that our civil space activities be kept free from possible accusations of militarism. While many technologies developed by NASA-DoD collaboration are dual-use in nature, there are some developmental areas that should remain out of bounds.

NPOESS – One of the most important joint collaborative efforts currently underway between NASA and the Air Force is the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environment System (NPOESS) a tri-agency program of NASA, DoD, and the Department of Commerce (DoC) that converges the DoD and DOC/NOAA polar-orbiting weather satellite programs. NASA, working with NPOESS Integrated Program Office (IPO), is providing pre-operational risk-reduction demonstration and validation tests for four critical NPOESS sensors that will fly on the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP). NPP is a primary NASA mission that serves as a “bridge” between the Earth Observation Satellite (EOS) mission and NPOESS. NPP is also a critical risk reduction mission for the Visual Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), the Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS), the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS), and the Ozone Mapper/Profiler Suite (OMPS) sensors and serves as an end-to-end test for the Command, Control and Communication (C3) and data processing systems for NPOESS.

DoD Space Test Program – While DoD currently has no requirement for manned spaceflight, the S&T community, through the auspices of the DoD Space Test Program, has made excellent use of the Space Shuttle. When necessary, NASA and DoD have worked to develop new integration methods and hardware to make the most use of every ounce of available spacelift. To date, the Space Test Program has launched over 200 experiments on over seventy Shuttle missions, including some of the first science experiments that were carried out on the international space station. As part of the effort to provide risk reduction to the NPOESS system, the DoD Space Test Program launched the Coriolis Mission in January 2003. This mission hosted both a solar mass ejection imager and WindSat sensor. The WindSat sensor will be evaluated for use on the NPOESS system.

NASA also assisted the Space Test Program in tests of a new Vibro-Acoustic Launch Protection Experiment (VALPE). NASA supported two successful sounding rocket launches from the Wallops Island launch facility. At Cape Canaveral, the AF supports the launch of NASA payloads, most recently the Spirit and Opportunity rovers now investigating Mars, from the Eastern and Western ranges.

S&T Forums – In more basic research and development, the AF and NASA collaborate in several major research projects and have several forums set up to facilitate S&T. The three major coordination forums for collaborative work are: the National Thermal Protection Systems (TPS) Working Group, which is led by the AF and NASA with participation of Army, Navy, Department of Energy (DOE), industry, and academia, and fosters development of new and advanced thermal protection materials and systems; the National Space and Missile Materials Symposium, which fosters increased communication and understanding in pursuing key materials technology challenges for space and missiles; and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Annual Summit, which is held annually to discuss and coordinate research efforts.

Other areas of research range across the complete spectrum of S&T activities. NASA and the AF work to track and characterize orbital debris as well as performing asteroid surveys to detect any large objects that are at risk of striking Earth. Many materials science experiments are carried out to look at environmental effects of space exposure, as in the DoD Space Test Program MISSE experiments, as well as high stress/high-cycle experiments on airframe or fuel tank materials. In the Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology (IHPRPT) Program, AFRL and NASA have worked to develop a spiral improvement system to the Space Shuttle Main Engines with technology benefits that will help all US next generation rocket engines. In addition to all of these areas, NASA and the AF collaborate on other S&T programs that touch on almost every facet of both aviation and space technologies. For instance, AFRL is teaming with JPL to develop the L-Band antenna for NASA’s space based radar effort.

Even NASA’s Mars exploration mission benefits from AF collaboration with NASA utilizing AF-developed Rad-6000 32-bit microprocessors and lithium-ion batteries in both planetary rovers. In addition, AF operational studies provided expertise on human fatigue-related performance issues that will help provide counter-fatigue strategies for rover operators.

Space Operations

The AF and NASA have existing memoranda of agreement establishing partnerships to support NASA launches with Spacelift Range assets and to pursue advanced launch and test range technologies. The AF’s Spacelift Ranges support all launch operations for NASA manned and unmanned launches from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) or from Vandenberg AFB. Also, at the recommendation of the Interagency Working Group on Future Management and Use of the US Space Launch Bases and Ranges, the AF and NASA established the Advanced Range Technology Working Group (ARTWG), co-chaired by AF Space Command and NASA-KSC. The ARTWG charter focuses on improving safety, increasing flexibility and capacity, and lowering range costs in support of future generations of reusable and expendable launch vehicles. The Joint Base Operating Support Contract (JBOSC) is a joint procurement effort between KSC NASA and the AF’s 45th Space Wing (SW) to provide unified base support services for KSC, Cape Canaveral AFS, and Patrick AFB.

Human Spaceflight

AFSPC provided support to NASA (via USSTRATCOM to USNORTHCOM) on the Columbia accident response and subsequent investigation. Major General John Barry and Brigadier General Duane Deal, USAF, both served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). General Deal also heads the wing (21st SW) responsible for operating the space surveillance network, which assisted in the Columbia investigation. Approximately 20 AFRL personnel from six technology directorates participated in the CAIB via the DoD Columbia Investigation Support Team. Subject matter expertise was provided in the fields of non-destructive inspection and test of critical composite structures, space weather, atmospheric space chemistry and physics, reentry physics, high-speed aerodynamics, aerothermal environments, kapton insulated wiring, ceramic materials, structural fatigue/fracture failure, and human behavior “group think” decision making.

In an effort to assist NASA in its return-to flight activities for the Shuttle fleet, the AF is assisting in developing and evaluating leading edge repair concepts that can be applied by astronauts in orbit. To date, 20 specimens from seven different organizations have been tested with three concepts surviving thermal conditions representative of flight heat flux and temperature. These three will be studied further to fully characterize the performance of the repair methods and materials and certify the concepts for flight. The AF is also assisting to analyze and improve the manual foam spraying operation previously used on the Space Shuttle Columbia external tanks.

NASA-DoD Space Organizations

Since 1958, the White House has created several organizational mechanisms to coordinate civil and military space programs and activities, including R&D investment. These range from President Eisenhower’s Civilian-Military Liaison Committee, which was designed to coordinate NASA and DoD activities, to the Kennedy-Johnson-era National Space Council and Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board, to President Reagan’s National Security Council-led interagency group, and then to President Clinton’s decision to separate Space Council functions under the Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Security Council. The current organization mechanism for coordination between NASA and DoD, however, is the Partnership Council.

The U.S. can, and always will, explore better ways of coordinating NASA and DoD space activities. Analysts from both NASA and DoD routinely track developments in space management involving international partners in space cooperation as well as other spacefaring nations. While it is always beneficial to study how other countries attack similar problems, we must always be cognizant of the fact that other countries have different policies, laws, technologies and national security and civil requirements.

DSB/AFSAB Joint Task Force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs

We in the DoD have benefited greatly from the recommendations of the joint Defense Science Board and Air Force Scientific Advisory Board task force on Acquisition of National Security Space Programs, led by Mr. A. Thomas Young. Mr. Young is a past Director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and headed the 1999 NASA-chartered review of the Mars Polar Lander loss.

Just as in the DoD, during the 1990s, NASA experienced declining budgets, increased acceptance of risk (for example – Faster, Better, Cheaper), unrealized growth of a commercial space market, increased dependence on space by an expanding user base, and consolidation of the space industrial base.

The Young Panel identified 5 “basic reasons” for cost growth and schedule delays in National Security Space programs:

  • Cost has replaced mission success as the primary driver in managing space development programs…resulting in excessive technical and schedule risk
  • Unrealistically low cost estimates lead to unrealistic budgets and unexecutable programs
  • Undisciplined definition and uncontrolled growth in system requirements Government capabilities to lead and manage the acquisition process have seriously eroded
  • Industry has failed to implement proven practices on some programs….The space industrial base is adequate to support current programs, although long-term concerns exist.

Within the DoD, we have taken the Young Panel findings and recommendations very seriously, and are continuing to implement policy and process changes in response to the Young Panel recommendations. Many of these findings likely have some applicability to NASA since we share much of the same industrial base and have experienced similar budget pressures. We have shared the Panel’s results and our lessons learned with senior NASA leadership during the Partnership Council and our other interactions.


Historically, the DoD and NASA have fostered a collaborative relationship to maximize responsive access to space and national space investment strategies, and we will continue to do so in the future. Both organizations have benefited from this open exchange of ideas and lessons learned, laying the foundation for future collaborations.

NASA was formed with many DoD centers of excellence as its space-related core. The Mercury and Gemini missions, for instance, all flew on DoD launch vehicles. From that time forward, we have continued to collaborate across the full spectrum of space – launch, communications, sensors, materials, life sciences, and much more. In many respects, the relationships between NASA and the DoD are as close, or closer, than they have ever been.

SpaceRef staff editor.