Sunday, March 18, 2012

Satellite Storage Could Exceed $200 Million

GPS Block IIIA satellite

The United States government is constantly upgrading the GPS satellite system, and frequently does something that we all do occasionally—orders them in bulk. But, while ordering satellites in bulk does save on some money, as it turns out it brings with it other challenges and costs.

According to a study released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent a whopping $130 million dollars on storing various satellites and in the next five years it could easily surpass more than $200 million. Of course, not all of that money is simply for GPS satellites, but the GPS II-F system was specifically mentioned in the article as one of the satellite models that was stored for a length of time.

What is more surprising (and even a little worrying) to me is that according to an article by Satellite Today, the DOD couldn’t really explain why they were spending so much money on storing satellites. Federal Acquisition Regulations demand that the government get multiple quotes to be sure they aren’t being cheated, but the DOD failed to do so, and apparently no one noticed. The estimated cost to store one satellite ranges from $40,000 to $120 million, depending on the satellite and length of time. I couldn’t find any information as to how many satellites are being currently stored.

According to the GAO, satellites in storage do require routine checks from personnel to ensure that they maintain usability, and generally storing satellites does not effect their operation. Personnel costs for these tasks are included in the total ‘satellite storage’ figure.

In the study, the GAO checked around eight different DOD programs including the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite system, the GLobal Positioning System 2-F and the Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) among others. They compared the results with other agencies that use satellites such as NASA, NORAD and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and found that those organizations generally either store their satellites in orbit to prevent loss of service, or they do store their satellites on the ground as part of planned production of multiple satellites. The report basically concluded with a recommendation that the Secretary of Defense ought to step in and straighten it out.

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