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Executive Summary BACKGROUND the overall capabilities that exist within each program ele- ment. While the primary purpose of the study was to provide As currently organized, the Space Communications Of- a peer assessment rather than programmatic advice, the com- fice (SCO) within the Space Operations Mission Directorate mittee has in some cases commented on programmatic is- (SOMD) at NASA has two primary roles within the agency, sues where they became apparent in the course of reviewing both of which are critical to the success and safety of human program effectiveness. Given below are the highlights of the and robotic space missions. The SCO’s first role is to di- committee’s assessment of the overall SCO program and the rectly manage two of the communication networks that en- individual program elements. Additional findings and rec- able spaceflight operations and research. These two opera- ommendations are presented in the main text of the report. tional program elements include the Space Network and the Significant portions of NASA’s space communications work NASA Integrated Services Network. The SCO’s second role are managed outside the SCO, and those programs are not is to integrate agency-wide telecommunications issues that reviewed in this study. influence policy formulation and to lead the effort to define NASA’s future space communications and navigation archi- OVERALL PROGRAM ASSESSMENT tecture. Several program elements within the SCO address this role: After a careful review of each of the program elements in the SCO, it was the consensus of the committee that, de- • Spectrum management, spite what appeared to be marginal civil service staffing lev- • Standards management, els in some areas, the overall program was both well man- • Search and rescue, aged and highly effective in carrying out its critical functions. • Communications and navigation architecture, The committee did, however, note some areas of possible • Technology, and concern in the overall program and makes a number of sug- • Operations integration. gestions for avoiding potential pitfalls as the program moves forward. In 2005, NASA requested that the National Research Council (NRC) perform a review of the effectiveness of the Prospective Centralized Space Communications SCO in carrying out its program responsibilities. The NRC Management subsequently formed the Committee to Review NASA’s Space Communications Program, which was tasked to as- As this study was nearing completion, the committee sess the overall quality of the space communications pro- learned that NASA was considering replacement of the frac- gram and offer findings and recommendations. In this study tionated space communications management structure at the committee has reviewed each of the program elements NASA headquarters with a more centralized approach. It was within the SCO, looking specifically at questions related to not within the committee’s purview to review the advan- the formulation of each program element’s plan, the meth- tages and disadvantages of consolidating NASA space com- odology used to develop the plans, how each program ele- munications management functions. However, the commit- ment utilizes its connections to the broader community, and tee makes several observations on this issue, noting that: 1
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2 REVIEW OF THE SPACE COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM • Centralized headquarters management and funding have arisen concerning prioritization of TDRSS support for of space communications worked well for NASA for more NASA missions versus other missions, the resolution has than 30 years until 1996. often not been favorable to NASA. • The proposed reorganization apparently would cen- The committee observes that the planned reorganization tralize space communications requirements and architectures of space communications management could greatly alter and realign the associated budgets, thus affecting visibility the future approaches that will be available for supplying the into and management of very large current and future NASA near-Earth communications support that is currently pro- programs for generations to come. vided by TDRSS. • Changing management structures is not a panacea. Reorganizations are often disruptive, countering the ex- Recommendation: A restructured space communications pected benefits. For instance, the last shift in space commu- management organization should undertake a detailed nications management resulted in the loss of 90 percent of analysis of alternative approaches for satisfying long-term the space communications program management experience terrestrial, near-Earth, and exploratory space communica- base that had previously existed at NASA headquarters. Most tions requirements and select the most beneficial for imple- personnel either retired or were reassigned to unrelated pro- mentation. This recommendation does not presuppose that grams. the current approaches are wrong, but it does suggest that there may be attractive alternatives worthy of reconsidera- Recommendation: Major changes in modus operandi, such tion that may have been eliminated due to organizational as realigning top-level management and funding responsi- boundaries. bilities, should be preceded by a transition plan that outlines the objectives of the changes and ensures that past corpo- Recommendation: The committee believes it would be re- rate knowledge is considered by the new organization. The sponsive and proactive for NASA to work with the broader committee recommends a thorough review of the lessons TDRSS user community to examine programmatic alterna- learned from past reorganizations so that NASA can avoid tives that could accelerate TDRSS satellite replenishment in repeating unsatisfactory consequences. order to address the projected service gap for non-NASA users. Limits of Review Centralized Space Communications Contracting Only the programs currently managed by the Space Communications Office at NASA were reviewed in this In 1996 NASA centralized its space communications study. However, a significant portion of NASA’s space com- contracting by having Johnson Space Center issue a single munications work is managed within other parts of the completion type contract to replace 18 contracts that had agency, such as the operation of the Deep Space Network in been awarded by the other NASA centers. This was the Con- the Science Mission Directorate. The committee believes solidated Space Operations Contract (CSOC). NASA pro- that NASA would benefit from a comprehensive review of vided the committee with several documents on CSOC les- all of its space communications work and notes that NASA’s sons learned revealing why the centralized contracting proposed consolidation of all communications functions un- concept had failed. The committee observes that contracting der a single management structure may offer a timely oppor- strategies are critical to the success of the space communica- tunity for such a review. tions program as it moves forward. Recommendation: The planned reorganization of NASA TDRSS Replenishment and Long-Term Communications space communications management at NASA headquarters Requirements provides an opportunity to benefit fully from the lessons The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) learned from contracting approaches used under the Con- is considered to be a national asset, and it supports, in addi- solidated Space Operations Contract. The committee rec- tion to NASA, numerous users ranging from the Department ommends an early and thorough examination and internal of Defense to the National Science Foundation. A gap in agency discussion of CSOC lessons learned to ensure that TDRSS capability to support projected NASA user require- past errors are not repeated. NASA should also review ap- ments will begin in 2015. NASA plans to include funding in proaches used prior to 1996 to take advantage of past suc- the FY 2008 budget cycle for a preformulation phase 1 effort cesses. and expects to develop a compelling case for a FY 2008 start for TDRSS satellite replenishment1 and thus avoid a gap in Requirements Validation Process NASA user coverage. NASA is also working with non- NASA users that will have a gap in TDRSS support pro- While some program elements of the SCO (such as the jected to start as early as 2010. Historically, when issues NASA Integrated Services Network) have a requirements
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4 REVIEW OF THE SPACE COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM Network program element is the absence of a definitive plan Finding: The problem of having NISN equipment that is no and appropriate resources for ensuring continuity of service longer serviceable is being resolved by replacing outdated (TDRSS satellite replenishment) to both NASA and non- equipment as funding allows. NASA users. Recommendation: NASA should structure future NISN sup- Finding: A NASA TDRSS satellite replenishment decision is port contracts to ensure that critical equipment is updated in needed not later than the FY 2008 budget cycle in order to an ongoing manner, with the minimum requirement being ensure continuity of communications support for NASA mis- that equipment will be replaced before vendors cease main- sions. tenance. Finding: There appears to be a “caveat emptor” mind-set Finding: NASA’s mission network has more stringent re- when it comes to consideration of communications service quirements for reliability and availability than does its insti- continuity (TDRSS satellite replenishment and longer-term tutional network. However, given the improvements inher- continuity of service) for the non-NASA user community. ent in state-of-the-art network technologies, any network with such technology will satisfy the more stringent of the Recommendation: If in fact TDRSS, plus its follow-on, is two sets of requirements, so that it is not necessary to differ- truly a national asset, NASA should take the lead in identify- entiate between the two networks with respect to this issue. ing the appropriate policy, the required resources, and the planning, implementation, and requirements validation pro- Recommendation: NASA should reevaluate the possibilities cess necessary to serve all TDRSS user communities’ needs for sharing a single network infrastructure for its mission for communications services. network and institutional network. Finding: Commercial satellite communications systems may Spectrum Management have limited ability to meet some of the mission needs cur- rently being supported by the Space Network. NASA has extensive communications and remote sens- ing systems, and the availability of adequately protected electromagnetic spectrum2 is essential to the implementa- Finding: Reliance on reimbursable funds from non-NASA users as the major component of the funding needed for the tion of NASA’s overall mission and to its vision relating to operations and maintenance of the Space Network is an un- space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics re- healthy basis for long-term planning and stability. search. NASA’s Spectrum Policy and Planning organization at Recommendation: NASA, in conjunction with the user com- NASA headquarters and at its field centers plays a key role munity, should examine alternatives for providing long-term, in ensuring access to the electromagnetic spectrum, comply- stable funding at the level required for operation and main- ing with U.S. and international spectrum regulations, and tenance of the Space Network. advocating for NASA’s electromagnetic spectrum needs in national and international spectrum regulatory forums. In addition, it provides technical advocacy in support of U.S. NASA Integrated Services Network commercial aerospace industries, facilitates private-sector The NASA Integrated Services Network (NISN) project use of spectrum, and encourages commercialization of space. provides terrestrial networking for the agency. There are two All of these goals and objectives require an ongoing and separate networks: (1) a mission network for transmission of long-term commitment of funding. flight-mission data between NASA ground stations and mis- The committee found that NASA has been very effec- sion operations control centers and (2) an institutional net- tive in advocating for and protecting its spectrum manage- work to support more general NASA activities. The commit- ment needs. The committee did note that there is continuing tee based its evaluation of NISN on discussions with NISN demand for access to spectrum for mobile voice, high-speed management, site visits to several NASA centers, customer data, and Internet-accessible wireless services that subjects assessments of NISN services, and documents governing NASA crosslinks and downlinks to potential interference project activities and responsibilities. Key findings and rec- from other services. Two examples are the TDRSS Ku-band ommendations include: crosslinks and downlinks and the deep-space S-band uplinks. In this regard, the committee offers the following finding Finding: Further outsourcing for the NASA Integrated Ser- and recommendation: vices Network appears to be infeasible, without negatively impacting the project, since network circuits are already Finding: NASA has been very effective in protecting its ac- provided commercially and the civil service staff is minimal. cess to the radio frequency spectrum needed for space com-
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5 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY munications. In addition, the potential interference from a The Distress Alerting Satellite System (DASS), a U.S. pro- proliferation of Ku-band non-geosynchronous orbit (NGSO) gram to upgrade C-S capabilities by improving timeliness very-small-aperture terminals (VSATs) has not been real- and accuracy for locating users in distress, is in its proof-of- ized because these systems have not, as yet, been deployed, concept phase and is achieving technical expectations. and NASA is reducing its use of S-band uplinks from its Deep NASA has been and continues to be the lead U.S. research Space Network sites. and development agency for SAR programs. Next-genera- tion international SAR programs are also in development Recommendation: Although there is no compelling reason and will be integrated with DASS as upgrades to the C-S for NASA to vacate the Ku band, it would be prudent for system to provide worldwide life-saving search and rescue NASA to consider relocating its future Ku-band downlinks services. The proof of concept phase of DASS will be fol- to a band with a primary allocation and to encourage users lowed by a NOAA-managed demonstration and evaluation to transition from the Ku band to the Ka band. This approach phase and subsequent incorporation of DASS into the C-S would provide insurance against unacceptable interference alerting system. arising from the future proliferation of commercial very- small-aperture terminal uplinks and could offer the second- Finding: NASA has exceeded its agreed-to budget for DASS. ary benefit of a higher-capacity downlink. Considerably more funds are needed to complete the proof- of-concept phase, and this additional budget may not be sup- ported by NASA headquarters. If the FY 2008 budget cycle Data Standards Management results in changes in NASA program funding, it is uncertain The primary role of the data standards management pro- whether the DASS proof of concept can be completed in a gram element is to represent NASA in a national and inter- form that reflects the plans and agency agreements the com- national collaborative activity, the Consultative Committee mittee reviewed in this study. The impacts on the plans of for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), which develops space- participating agencies are also not known. associated standards to facilitate more cost-effective mis- sions by sharing common components, procedures, and in- Recommendation: As chair of the DASS Management Work- frastructure. Historically, NASA has played a leadership role ing Group, NASA should assemble the interagency partici- in the CCSDS. The committee found that the standards man- pants in the DASS proof of concept, review the program’s agement program makes especially valuable (though some- progress toward meeting technical, operational, and pro- what subtle) contributions to all space programs, as demon- grammatic requirements, review interagency and interna- strated by the increasing adoption of its products—standards. tional commitments, and negotiate a plan for the future of Given that adoption of standards is voluntary, both by NASA DASS. flight programs and by the other nine member agencies, this accomplishment is particularly meaningful. Another impor- Communications and Navigation Architecture tant metric of this program element’s contribution is the value of adopted standards: in 2005, the CCSDS surveyed The communications and navigation architecture pro- the dollar value and reached a consensus that it exceeded gram element is responsible for defining the space commu- $24 billion per annum3—an extremely impressive return nications and navigation architecture to support NASA’s given the quite modest level of resources devoted to this science and exploration missions through 2030. This archi- program element. tecture must evolve through 2030 and beyond to keep pace with the needs of future science and exploration users, and, Finding: It appears that the expected services are being suc- potentially, non-NASA users. The Communications and cessfully provided by NASA’s space data standards manage- Navigation Architecture program element accomplishes its ment program element, as evidenced by the continuing de- task through NASA’s agency-wide Space Communications velopment of standards that are being adopted by space Architecture Working Group (SCAWG). SCAWG’s mem- activities around the world. The relatively modest funding bership includes representatives from the communication allocated seems stable, and no funding threats are foreseen. networks, the user community, NASA centers, and each NASA mission directorate. Search and Rescue Recommendation: NASA’s top management should imple- The program element for search and rescue (SAR) pro- ment a management structure that involves the affected vides distress alerting and location information to SAR au- science and mission programs and other users and ensures thorities anywhere in the world for maritime, aviation, and support for, and compliance with, the long-term communi- land-based users. COSPAS-SARSAT (C-S), an interna- cations and navigation architecture. tional and multi-U.S.-agency system, is operational today.
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6 REVIEW OF THE SPACE COMMUNICATIONS PROGRAM Technology ordinates with a wide range of domestic and international entities, manages requirements between the Mission Control The technology element of the Space Communications Center and the various components of the space communi- Office is chartered to identify NASA communications capa- cations infrastructure, and reviews and certifies the readi- bility needs across the agencies’ missions, track candidate ness of communications-related hardware, software, and per- enabling concepts and technologies, and develop those sonnel for human spaceflight. In reviewing this element, the promising technologies through focused investment. The committee’s key findings included the following: SCO uses a dedicated technology assessment team within its Space Communications Architecture Working Group to gen- Finding: NASA missions that involve human spaceflight rely erate focus areas, direct technology development invest- heavily on the skills and influence of several highly experi- ments, and manage and track projects for infusion into fu- enced individuals to manage their communications activi- ture NASA systems. ties and provide readiness assurance. The committee found a solid program management foundation that, if fully executed, would provide effective Finding: NASA’s center-based contract structure makes it management of the technology development program. Sev- critical for operations integration team members to be both eral perceived limitations were identified in the execution highly experienced and widely respected across many orga- of the overarching program, including a potential lack of nizations within NASA. uniformity in planning project executions and an occasional decoupling of top-down NASA mission needs and the Finding: The individuals responsible for managing and ex- bottom-up development of enabling technologies. The ecuting the operations integrations program element do an committee’s conclusions for this element can be summa- excellent job in the eyes of their customers, the Space Shuttle rized as advising that a more formal, integrated manage- and International Space Station programs. ment effort be undertaken across the technology element, to include peer review evaluations with stakeholders and part- NOTES ners and a uniform application of systems analysis to pro- vide inputs for investment decisions, including selection, 1. TDRSS replenishment as used in this report refers spe- continuation, and termination of project efforts. cifically to the next acquisition of replacement spacecraft needed to maintain some (currently unspecified) level of service to users as the on-orbit spacecraft reach the end of their useful life. Neither the Operations Integration planned capabilities/configuration of these replacement spacecraft, The operations integration program element is charged nor possible alternative approaches to provide comparable service, have been developed as yet and therefore were not assessed by the with the task of managing communications activities for committee. human spaceflight. This role requires the operations integra- 2. In spectral bands allocated for passive and active space tion team to coordinate with the Space Shuttle program, the research, space operations, passive and active Earth-exploration, International Space Station program, and the contractors that and meteorological satellite, intersatellite, radionavigation, and serve them. The operations integration team oversees the deep-space research services. combined efforts of a distributed set of contractors who must 3. Kelley, John D., NASA SOMD, personal communica- work together seamlessly to support a common mission, co- tion, March 1, 2006.