Executive Summary

The environment in which national space activities are conducted has changed significantly in recent years. Technological advances, domestic and foreign policy shifts, economic constraints, and international competition all have affected priorities in the space program and increased options for achieving objectives. This dynamic environment for space activities has important implications for future facilities needs. The National Facilities Study (NFS), initiated in 1992 and completed in May 1994, represents an interagency effort to develop a comprehensive and integrated long-term plan for world-class aeronautical and space facilities that meet current and projected needs for commercial and government aerospace research and development (R&D) and space operations.

At the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Research Council's Committee on Space Facilities has reviewed the space related findings of the NFS. 1 Given the relatively short time available for the NFS task team and working groups to pull together much information and analysis about the current space facilities infrastructure, the National Research Council committee believes that many aspects of the study were performed very well. The inventory of more than 2,800 facilities will be an important resource, especially if it continues to be updated and maintained as the NFS report recommends. The data in the inventory provide the basis for a much better understanding of the resources available in the national facilities infrastructure, as well as extensive information on which to base rational decisions about current and future facilities needs.

The working groups have used the inventory data and other information to make a set of recommendations that include estimates of cost savings and steps for implementation. The recommendations for change are well reasoned, as far as they go, and merit implementation. However, the NFS space facilities recommendations are driven by current budget constraints rather than a careful and reasoned attempt to predict long-term needs. Although tight federal budgets provide a strong incentive for greater interagency cooperation and for reducing the number of facilities, they provide little incentive for long-term planning. Without a well-articulated nàtional space policy on which to base facilities requirements, emphasis inevitably gets placed on reducing annual operating costs by closing some facilities while modifying and consolidating others. This emphasis is reflected in the NFS space facilities recommendations.

If the NFS is ultimately to respond to the questions posed to its task team, additional work is needed to assess facilities needs in the context of realistic long-term national aspirations in space. In particular, more work is needed in four areas: (1) the requirements models described in the NFS, (2) the efficiencies possible from a serious analysis and realignment of agency roles and missions and management practices, (3) the low level of industrial participation in the space facilities aspects of the NFS, and (4) the implications of future international competition and cooperation for domestic space facilities.

1  

The aeronautics facilities aspects of the NFS are being reviewed by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, whose findings are described in a separate report.



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SPACE FACILITIES: MEETING FUTURE NEEDS FOR RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND OPERATIONS Executive Summary The environment in which national space activities are conducted has changed significantly in recent years. Technological advances, domestic and foreign policy shifts, economic constraints, and international competition all have affected priorities in the space program and increased options for achieving objectives. This dynamic environment for space activities has important implications for future facilities needs. The National Facilities Study (NFS), initiated in 1992 and completed in May 1994, represents an interagency effort to develop a comprehensive and integrated long-term plan for world-class aeronautical and space facilities that meet current and projected needs for commercial and government aerospace research and development (R&D) and space operations. At the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Research Council's Committee on Space Facilities has reviewed the space related findings of the NFS. 1 Given the relatively short time available for the NFS task team and working groups to pull together much information and analysis about the current space facilities infrastructure, the National Research Council committee believes that many aspects of the study were performed very well. The inventory of more than 2,800 facilities will be an important resource, especially if it continues to be updated and maintained as the NFS report recommends. The data in the inventory provide the basis for a much better understanding of the resources available in the national facilities infrastructure, as well as extensive information on which to base rational decisions about current and future facilities needs. The working groups have used the inventory data and other information to make a set of recommendations that include estimates of cost savings and steps for implementation. The recommendations for change are well reasoned, as far as they go, and merit implementation. However, the NFS space facilities recommendations are driven by current budget constraints rather than a careful and reasoned attempt to predict long-term needs. Although tight federal budgets provide a strong incentive for greater interagency cooperation and for reducing the number of facilities, they provide little incentive for long-term planning. Without a well-articulated nàtional space policy on which to base facilities requirements, emphasis inevitably gets placed on reducing annual operating costs by closing some facilities while modifying and consolidating others. This emphasis is reflected in the NFS space facilities recommendations. If the NFS is ultimately to respond to the questions posed to its task team, additional work is needed to assess facilities needs in the context of realistic long-term national aspirations in space. In particular, more work is needed in four areas: (1) the requirements models described in the NFS, (2) the efficiencies possible from a serious analysis and realignment of agency roles and missions and management practices, (3) the low level of industrial participation in the space facilities aspects of the NFS, and (4) the implications of future international competition and cooperation for domestic space facilities. 1   The aeronautics facilities aspects of the NFS are being reviewed by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, whose findings are described in a separate report.

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SPACE FACILITIES: MEETING FUTURE NEEDS FOR RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND OPERATIONS Requirements Models The NFS baseline model for commercial, civil, and military space systems needs is based on other recent mission models and conforms to current budgetary and policy decisions. It contains no new major missions or vehicles and, therefore, the NFS task team assumes that no major changes in launch facilities or research facilities are needed. The excursion model has some new missions and vehicles, but its implications on facilities are not addressed in the NFS. The assumption in the baseline model that the status quo will be maintained for the next 30 years is not conducive to a rigorous analysis of future facilities needs. In fact, it is more likely that the space program will undergo major changes in direction and scope during that period. The excursion model is more indicative of what is likely to be needed during this 30-year period, since it explores the development of some new facilities and technology. Roles and Missions The NFS recognizes the importance of reviewing and modifying roles and missions within and across agencies and calls for further study. However, possible realignments of roles and missions, and their implications for facilities requirements and costs, did not receive thorough analysis. For instance, opportunities to consolidate activities of the NASA centers, to consolidate Shuttle hardware activities at Kennedy Space Center, and to streamline Air Force launch operations are not sufficiently evaluated in the NFS. The NFS also pays inadequate attention to areas in which management practices have detrimental effects on operational efficiency. Industrial Participation Although there was some participation by industry in the facilities inventory, and some effort to gather industry input, the focus of the NFS is almost exclusively on government-owned space facilities. The task groups believed that market forces would dictate decisions on private facilities; indeed, a number have been closed as the aerospace industry retrenches. But current market incentives are such that considerable excess capacity in space facilities may remain. The high costs of closing facilities and the need for contractors to demonstrate that facilities are in place to be competitive on contract bids work together to keep excess facilities open. International Competition and Cooperation Foreign facilities will affect U.S. space operations and R&D efforts either by providing opportunities for cooperation or by increasing competition with U.S. facilities and setting standards for cost, reliability, and capability. Many foreign launch facilities are newer and, having benefited from American experience, are designed for operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Foreign R&D facilities also are improving. The possibility that international competition and cooperation will affect U.S. space facilities requirements, including potential U.S. reliance on foreign facilities, has not been explicitly addressed in the NFS. Recommendations Given the committee's assessment of the mission and requirements models and the NFS analysis of space facilities using the models, much more work should be done to determine national space facilities needs based on more realistic long-term objectives. The committee recognizes that the ability to develop more realistic national space objectives ideally depends on clear policy decisions and budgetary commitments to back those decisions. However, a better assessment of future facilities needs is still possible in their absence. It should be based not only on current trends in technology, international competition, and industry, but also on innovative approaches to meeting mission requirements. Such an assessment would highlight policy alternatives and opportunities to improve the nation's space facilities infrastructure.

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SPACE FACILITIES: MEETING FUTURE NEEDS FOR RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, AND OPERATIONS The committee, therefore, first recommends that NASA and DoD conduct a second phase or follow-on study. A goal of this study should be not only to illuminate the savings possible from changes in the space facilities infrastructure but also to illustrate the potential to enhance the nation's ability to meet its objectives based on more effective utilization of facilities. 2 The committee has identified several broad areas that should form the nucleus of this follow-on study. (Additional specific elements that should be addressed in the next phase of the NFS are detailed in the committee's recommendations.) The baseline requirements model should be revised to include a set of potential vehicle options and the facilities that would be required to support them. There are a number of possible approaches currently being evaluated to upgrade and modernize U.S. launch capabilities. These approaches include single stage to orbit, liquid and solid technologies, and hybrids of the two. Future facilities needs should take into consideration innovative approaches to reduce operational costs. Such approaches were lacking in the NFS. The roles and missions currently allocated within and between NASA and DoD facilities should be reassessed. Where changes in roles and missions also would enable more efficient, effective use of facilities, such facility changes should be recommended. The incentives and disincentives facing the aerospace industry that are related to facilities should be identified. A broad set of issues, including tax policy, accounting requirements, and contracting procedures, should be addressed to generate a comprehensive picture of industry 's facilities investment behavior. These issues can only be solved by securing much greater industry participation in the process of reviewing national space facilities. Such issues might be covered in any future survey of industry's needs as well. Finally, appropriate interactions with foreign countries need to be explicitly examined. The follow-on study should have a clear international element that documents current major R&D and operational facilities abroad, projects likely future capabilities relative to the United States, and identifies conditions under which cooperation is likely or even preferred and those under which separate U.S. capabilities are essential. Because a broad revision of roles and missions could result in extensive changes in facilities requirements and workloads, and would likely raise political concerns, consideration should be given to establishing a presidential commission, analogous to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, to help generate the political consensus necessary to close and consolidate some facilities. Conclusion While, in today's budget-conscious environment, it is natural that the NFS focused on cost reduction and consolidations, such a study is most useful to future planning if it gives equal weight to guiding the direction of future facilities needed to satisfy legitimate national aspirations. Even in the context of cost reduction through facilities closures and consolidations, the study is timid about recognizing and proposing program changes and realignments of roles and missions to capture what could be significant savings and increased effectiveness. The recommendations of the Committee on Space Facilities are driven by the clear need to be more realistic and precise both in recognizing current incentives and disincentives in the aerospace industry and in forecasting future conditions for U.S. space activities. 2 Such a study could build on the current review of NASA and other government laboratories that is being coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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