Space at a Crossroads: Government Programmes Can Benefit from Commercial Space and Other Changes If Long-Standing Challenges Are Addressed
Government-built satellites provide vital capabilities to national security, government operations, the science community, and the economy. For many years, U.S. government-built satellites have paved the way in space technology advancements. They have also been expected to operate under harsher conditions than their commercial counterparts and to be much more secure, adding to the time and money it takes to develop, produce, and launch them. At the same time, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that government space programmes have also been characterised by large cost overruns and schedule delays. On top of inherent risks, agencies have faced many challenges in producing realistic estimates, adhering to high standards for quality, and employing sound programme management practices. As troubled space programmes have become less tolerable in times of growing fiscal pressures, the U.S. government is beginning to embrace the use of commercially built satellites as well as commercial-like business practices. While “going commercial” seems attractive, particularly given the rise of many new innovative suppliers, GAO’s work indicates that the U.S. government must overcome significant hurdles before it can successfully adopt new ways of procuring space capabilities.