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Mon, May 11, 2009

Will The GPS Constellation Falter in 2010? GAO Report Voices Concern

New Satellites May Not Keep Up With Needs

It's not exactly a page-turner but a recently issued GAO report ANN is reading has us a mite concerned... according to some of the data published therein, the GAO found that, "It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected."

The GAO preface states that, "In recent years, the Air Force has struggled to successfully build GPS satellites within cost and schedule goals; it encountered significant technical problems that still threaten its delivery schedule; and it struggled with a different contractor. As a result, the current IIF satellite program has overrun its original cost estimate by about $870 million and the launch of its first satellite has been delayed to November 2009—almost 3 years late.

Additional GAO Considerations:
  • ...while the Air Force is structuring the new GPS IIIA program to prevent mistakes made on the IIF program, the Air Force is aiming to deploy the next generation of GPS satellites 3 years faster than the IIF satellites. GAO’s analysis found that this schedule is optimistic, given the program’s late start, past trends in space acquisitions, and challenges facing the new contractor. Of  particular concern is leadership for GPS acquisition, as GAO and other studies have found the lack of a single point of authority for space programs and frequent turnover in program managers have hampered requirements setting, funding stability, and resource allocation.

  • If the Air Force does not meet its schedule goals for development of GPS IIIA satellites, there will be an increased likelihood that in 2010, as old satellites begin to fail, the overall GPS constellation will fall below the number of satellites required to provide the level of GPS service that the U.S. government commits to. Such a gap in capability could have wide-ranging impacts on all GPS users, though there are measures the Air Force and others can take to plan for and minimize these impacts.

The GA Report makes a recommendation that the Secretary of Defense appoint a single authority to oversee development of GPS space, ground control, and user equipment assets, to ensure they are synchronized, well executed, and potential disruptions are minimized. DOD reportedly  concurred with GAO's recommendations.

FMI: www.gao.gov/new.items/d09325.pdf

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