The two words "space program" have almost become synonymous with Nunn-McCurdy, and John Young's acquisition office wants to change that.
So, not for the first time, an effort is underway to do a soup to nuts review of space programs, trying to figure out which capabilities are absolutely required, which might be traded to cover other costs or other requirements and which might have been superseded or are just too hopeless to be much more than technology labs.
Only one program was mentioned that might be in the last category -- Transformational Satellite (T-Sat). But before anyone screams or cries, take note that the Pentagon source I discussed this with made it clear that, while the likely curtailment of FCS might lead one to assume T-Sat could be scrapped for a fifth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), there are technical and military reasons to keep some sort of T-Sat program going.
The Pentagon source was joined by a congressional aide in arguing that the AEHF bus, the platform on which the sensors, chips and power sources is not big enough to accept the IP router and other technology that make T-Sat the bigger bandwidth platform it is supposed to be.
"OK. Fine. So FCS is whacked but you still need the capability T-Sat offers," said the aide. But the new approach to T-Sat, agreed to just before the New Year and known as T-Sat core, is "such a dumbed-down version it's almost not good enough to make a difference." But that "almost" is crucial. Even if half the FCS vehicle types are never built the military will still have an enormous and growing need for bandwidth and AEHF just can't meet those needs. Still, T-Sat is likely come in as a much leaner program than it was in the last budget as the revamped version is built into the 2010 budget. [Note that our illustration shows a laser link between sats, a key capability that has been stripped from T-Sat.] No numbers yet.
As for the larger effort by OSD to look at the space trade space, several congressional aides were happy to hear the effort is underway but were uncertain as to its eventual utility "You know, they either need these things or they don't. If they have valid requirements and the technology is there then let's build them and try to keep the costs down," said the first aide.
A second congressional aide yearned for some "budget reality" to come out of the OSD effort. "We need some budget reality. At the end of the day, we always seem to end up with the basic problem that our desires are bigger than our budget," the second aide said.
The Air Force effort was greeted a bit less charitably. "I think we've studied these suckers to death. Let’s take advantage of that and make some real decisions here," the first aide said. "Everybody would applaud that." At least the Air Force, which has putative authority over space program management, is thinking about the issue.