by Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe
Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - P
7/21/2014 - WASHINGTON -- Gen.
William L. Shelton, Air Force Space Command commander, stressed the
importance of maintaining assured access to space to the Senate
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Committee on Commerce, Science and
Transportation during a hearing on the options for assuring domestic
access to space, July 16.
"Space assets have been a key element of warfighting for over 30 years,
providing a unique vantage to observe activity around the globe, relay
terrestrial communications and provide precision position information,"
He explained the challenge is ensuring space services continue to be
available, even as the space domain continues to change and evolve. The
first step in this process is to assure access to space for national
"The loss of even one national security payload - both in terms of
financial loss and operations impact - would make our mission assurance
costs look like cheap insurance," he said. "We will continue to place
emphasis on tough mission assurance principles to do all that is humanly
possible to guard against launch failure."
Shelton was joined by Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics the Honorable Alan F. Estevez;
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Associate Administrator
Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.; Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government
Accountability Office Director Cristina T. Chaplain; Aerospace
Corporation Vice President of Program Assessments retired Air Force Maj.
Gen. Howard J. Mitchell; Purdue University Department of Aeronautics
and Aerospace Engineering Professor of Practice Daniel L. Dumbacher and
RAND Corporation Senior Engineer Dr. Yool Kim.
"The nation requires robust, responsive and resilient space
transportation capabilities that enable and advance our space
operations," Estevez said. "The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
program has provided launch services for critical national security
payloads since 2002 with an unprecedented record of success."
The growing costs of the EELV program caused the Air Force and the
Office of the Secretary of Defense to look at restructuring options, to
provide the best capabilities at the lowest cost to the American
"The Air Force devised a strategy that balances efficient procurement of
launch services, maintains mission assurance and reintroduces
competition into the EELV program," Estevez said. "Since restructuring
the program, we have stopped the burgeoning cost of maintain a domestic
launch capability, without sacrificing the rigor required to maintain
mission success, then concurrently achieving the program's two most
The restructure allowed the Air Force to find savings within the program, without sacrificing quality.
"This year's budget reduces the (EELV) program by $1.2 ," Shelton said.
"Combined with prior-year Air Force reductions and savings for the
National Reconnaissance Office, we have reduced the total program by
$4.4 billion from the baseline in the fiscal year '12 budget."
The strategy focuses on driving competition between private companies for the award of space launch contracts.
"The commercial space launch industry has made substantial progress over
the last year," Shelton said. "As a result, we are managing change in
the EELV program from a single-provider environment to a multi-provider
environment through a certification process. The phased introduction of
competition through deliberate certification is the approach chosen to
help lower launch costs while maintain a laser-like focus on mission
One concern members of congress had for the panel of witnesses is the
perceived reliance on the Russian RD-180 Rocket Engine, which fuels the
Atlas V launch vehicle.
"The United States is not dependent or reliant on Russian technology to
launch our critical space assets," Estevez said. "The Delta IV launch
vehicle has a domestically produced propulsion system that is capable of
lifting all national security payloads."
The alternative launch vehicle is more expensive, but the stockpile of
RD-180 engines is expected to last up to two years in the event of
"While the RD-180 has served us well, current uncertainty highlights the
need to consider other options for assured access to space," Shelton
said. "A domestically produced new engine program would revitalize the
liquid rocket propulsion industrial base, end reliance on a foreign
supplier and aid the competitive outlook for the entire domestic launch
The goal of the DoD remains assuring America's access to space, while
still providing economical decisions and processes to provide savings to
"Air Force payloads provide foundational space capabilities to the joint
warfighter and the nation, who collectively rely on these systems
across a range of civil and military operations," Shelton said. "We are
committed to sustaining the highest levels of mission assurance, and our
ultimate objective is to safely and reliably launch national security
payloads on a schedule determined by the needs of the national security
space enterprise. We look forward to continuing to provide resilient,
capable and affordable space capabilities for the joint force and the