IC21: The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century

Staff Study
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
House of Representatives
One Hundred Fourth Congress

VIII. Collection: Launch

                        Executive Summary

     Spaceborne collection assets are useless if they cannot be put
into orbit.  Hence, launch vehicles will remain a critical
component of the US intelligence collection architecture.   Titan
IV, the primary launch vehicle used by the Intelligence Community
(IC), is prohibitively expensive.  In order to meet the needs of
all users, the US needs to move to simple, reliable, affordable
launch vehicles.   Though we believe the US must ultimately develop
a new launch vehicle, interim solutions require the infusion of new
ways of doing business and decreasing the IC's reliance on the
Titan IV.  The following recommendations reflect this approach.  

     -    If technically feasible, all IC payloads should be taken
          off of the Titan IV.  No Titan IVs should be purchased by
          the IC after the 1997 buy, and even that should be

     -    The U.S. should examine the viability of advanced
          technologies to reduce the size of satellites.

     -    The Air Force should modify its Evolved Expendable Launch
          Vehicle (EELV) program to focus solely on the heavy lift
          problem.  The US government should take advantage of the
          Medium Launch Vehicle (MLV) competition between McDonnell
          Douglas and Lockheed Martin in order to keep MLV costs

     -    All IC payloads should move to the "ship and shoot"
          approach (i.e., payloads arrive at the launch site ready
          for launch, with no on-site assembly, testing, etc).

     -    Future IC payloads should conform to the standard
          interface of the launch vehicle.  IC MLV class payloads
          should be compatible with both the Atlas IIAS/R and the
          Delta 3.

            COLLECTION:   LAUNCH
     Launch vehicles are, and will remain, a crucial component of
the US space architecture, especially in support of the
Intelligence Community.  Numerous government studies have espoused
the criticality of our space transportation system to the US's
assured access to space and have enumerated the many problems
plaguing the launch vehicle community (LVC).  Yet, nothing has come
of these studies but piles of paper.  No one has been able to push
the solution forward for the real issue the LVC faces:  the
requirement for simple, reliable, and affordable launch vehicles. 
Though many organizations have tried, all previous efforts to build
a new launcher have failed (ALS, NLS, Spacelifter, etc.) because
the US Government (USG) tried to procure these systems doing
business as usual.  Costs grew substantially and programs were
cancelled.  The Intelligence Community (IC) is particularly
vulnerable to the vagaries of the LVC.  Because IC payloads are
launched to support national security interests, required launch
costs have been paid, regardless of how exorbitant.  However, this
climate is changing, mainly due to the current austere budget
environment.  With many of the IC payloads being scaled back or
downsized to save costs, it is time to take a serious look at the
LVC and decide if it is providing what we need to support
intelligence requirements for the 21st century.

          FINDING: Launch vehicles will remain a critical component
          of the U.S. intelligence collection architecture. 

     In recent years, the IC has mainly been concerned with the
Titan IV (TIV) launch vehicle and, in fact, the IC has been the
main driver behind the need for a heavy lift capability because of
the size of its payloads. The TIV has become the workhorse of the
Community since (and because of) the Space Shuttle Challenger
accident.  It is the only US vehicle (besides the Space Shuttle)
capable of providing a heavy lift capability.  The TIV, along with
the rest of the United States' launch vehicles, is based upon
1950's ICBM technology.  ICBM developments were not optimized for
low-cost production and simple, streamlined operations.  These
missiles were designed in the shortest time possible and built with
the emphasis on maximizing performance (i.e., to carry the largest
warhead possible) while minimizing the weight of the missile. 
Thus, very little design margin was allowed to keep the weight of
the ICBM low.  The Atlas launch vehicle is a perfect example of
this.  The structural walls of the Atlas missile's propellant tanks
(and consequently, those of the Atlas launch vehicle) cannot stand
up by themselves because the tanks' walls are extremely thin to
save on weight.  They must be internally pressurized for structural
stability; otherwise, they implode.  Hence, it is no wonder that
our current stable of launch vehicles is not optimized for cost
efficiency, robustness of design, and short operational timelines. 
Further, no matter how many times we upgrade these systems, their
complex designs will never allow for ease of operations, low cost
and maximum reliability.  There is only so much that can be done
with these legacy systems.

          FINDING: The US needs simple, reliable, affordable launch
          vehicles.  The Titan IV launch vehicle is not the best
          means of ensuring a viable 21st century collection
          architecture.  Other options --  such as new launch
          vehicles and changes in satellite design -- must be

     The majority of IC payloads use the TIV.  It is extremely
expensive, unreliable, non-responsive, and pollutes the
environment.  It is definitely NOT the launch vehicle of the 21st
century.  The IC has four options to solve the above problems:  1)
lighten the spacecraft so they can fly on a Medium Launch Vehicle
(MLV); 2) perform product improvements to the TIV to increase
reliability, improve responsiveness, and decrease cost; 3) hope the
Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program is successful at
decreasing costs; or 4) develop a new launch vehicle.  

          FINDING:  The Titan IV launch vehicle is prohibitively

     Though we believe that, ultimately, the country must make the
investment in a new launch vehicle as stated in Option 4, we must
deal with the realities of today.  Also, as stated earlier, there
appears to be very little that can be done in the form of upgrades
to increase substantially reliability and to decrease costs for
these legacy systems.  Therefore, we recommend a combination of
Options 1 and 3.  The IC should reduce its payloads in weight and
size to be compatible with the MLV class of boosters, at a minimum,
but should strive, using advanced technologies, to attain the
smallest satellite size and weight possible.  We believe, with
perhaps the exception of one program, that all current payloads
that use the TIV can be downsized with no degradation in
performance.  This will drastically reduce launch costs for these

          RECOMMENDATION:  If technically feasible, all IC payloads
          should be taken off of the Titan IV.  

     Regarding EELV, we believe the Air Force should modify its
program to focus solely on the heavy lift problem.  Until it is
ascertained whether the remaining IC program can be downsized to a
MLV class booster, we must protect a heavy lift capability. 
However,  MLV costs are already at the cost goals of EELV and both
Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas have committed to a MLV
program, regardless of whether EELV lives or dies.  This is based
upon their forecasts for the commercial market.  Hence, the USG
should use this competition to its advantage and use both MLV
programs, instead of locking itself into one contractor team as
EELV proposes.  Where is the incentive for the contractor to be low
cost when it has a monopoly on the USG market?  Allowing this MLV
competition to continue would allow lower prices to be obtained and
would provide a responsive backup capability if enough foresight
went into the redesign of the new IC satellites.  The new EELV
program should mandate that the heavy lift vehicle be a derivative
of the MLV programs so that economy of scale will be preserved
(especially if the IC is left with only one program requiring heavy
lift).  Several EELV contractors are already designing their
programs in this way.  There are some who predict that eventually
there will be a commercial market for a heavy lift vehicle, based
on the continuing trend of commercial communications satellites to
grow larger.  However, based on IC requirements, we do not have the
luxury to wait and see if the commercial market will help to drive
heavy lift costs down.

          RECOMMENDATION:  The Air Force should modify its EELV
          program to focus solely on the heavy lift problem.  The
          U.S. government should take advantage of the Medium
          Launch Vehicle (MLV) competition between Lockheed Martin
          and McDonnell Douglas in order to keep MLV costs low.

     We applaud the IC in its current efforts to downsize its new
spacecraft programs.   Because these programs are entering a
redesign phase, now is the opportune time to address launch
responsiveness issues.  The IC should require that these new
spacecraft be designed in accordance with the "ship and shoot"
philosophy, i.e., the spacecraft arrives at the launch pad ready
for launch.  No final assembly should be allowed on-pad nor should
prolonged testing.  Off-line processing and encapsulation need to
become the norm, not the exception.  This will help streamline
operations at the launch pad, allowing for quicker launch
The IC should also mandate that its spacecraft use the standard launch
vehicle interface that is available.  This will allow spacecraft to be
interchangeable on the booster (and between different boosters) should
a problem develop with a payload (or a booster).  This, too, will help
to streamline operations and reduce costly payload-unique designs. 

     The ability for the IC to choose between an Atlas or a Delta
launch vehicle for a MLV is now a reality because McDonnell Douglas
has committed to the Delta 3.  The Delta 3 will be comparable to
the Atlas IIAS.  The IC should require that all of its new
spacecraft be designed to both launch vehicles' dynamic
environments and loads.  Hence, their launch flexibility will
improve dramatically.  It is only through implementation of these
concepts that space can truly be "operationalized."  Unfortunately,
business as usual routinely has satellite program offices forcing
the launch vehicle to customize its interface, versus the satellite
adhering to the standard interface.  This will only be changed if
direction comes down from the top.  The IC is in a perfect position
to mandate these approaches and should do so immediately.  

          RECOMMENDATION:  All IC payloads, during their current
          redesign phase, should incorporate the "ship and shoot"
          approach (i.e., payloads arrive at the launch site ready
          for launch, with no on-site assembly, testing, etc.).

          RECOMMENDATION:  All IC payloads, during their current
          redesign phase, should conform to the standard interface
          of the launch vehicle.  NRO MLV class payloads should be
          compatible with both the Atlas IIAS/R and the Delta 3. 

     Not all IC programs have been as enthusiastic about embracing
new technology and lighter weight materials.  Their rationale was
based on the economies of scale for the TIV program.  If the IC
pulled all of their spacecraft off of the TIV except for one
program, the costs become prohibitively expensive for that
remaining program.  That does not mean, however, that we should
continue to pay three times as much for launch vehicles for other
programs (not to mention foregoing the cheaper satellite costs) to
save the perception that the TIV program is affordable.  Perhaps
the cost savings would be eaten up by the TIV inefficiencies, but
it might provide the impetus to devise new ways of downsizing the
remaining heavy lift program, so it too could be taken off of the
TIV, and provide more support to the heavy lift EELV program (i.e.
with only one  satellite requiring heavy lift, we need a more cost
effective means of providing it).  We have embraced a serious and
timely examination of small satellite technology and believe that
much smaller satellites can perform some, if not all, IC missions,
with improved performance and flexibility.   These new satellites
could potentially use the small launch vehicle (SLV) class of

     This SLV class of boosters includes the Lockheed Martin Launch
Vehicle (LLV) and Orbital Sciences Taurus vehicle.  We must mention
some of the development problems this class of boosters is
experiencing.  LLV has had one failure out of one launch attempt
and Taurus has had one success out of one launch (though its sister
program, Pegasus, has had numerous failures and has yet to become
truly operational, casting doubt on all of Orbital's launch vehicle
programs).  Though these boosters have had their share of problems,
both companies have enormous incentive to make these programs
viable from both a cost and reliability point of view.  Both
companies have commercial satellite programs that must fly on their
own respective small launch vehicles.  Hence, these companies must
ensure that their launch vehicles will perform reliably and take
their payloads into orbit.  We believe these market forces will
provide the impetus required to make these programs operational. 
If this does not occur, MLVs can always be used, albeit at greater
cost (though still much cheaper than the TIV). 

     The remaining heavy lift program presents the IC with a major
dilemma.   The Air Force has no current plans to continue use of
the TIV for Department of Defense (DoD) payloads past the follow-on
buy scheduled for 1997.   If all other  programs are taken off of
the TIV, the IC will have the only remaining program using this
launch vehicle.  Regardless of the number of programs it keeps on
the TIV, the IC could very well be forced to pick up the whole tab
for the TIV program, based on the Air Force's decision (though, at
present, the Air Force has said this will not happen).  This would
be an increase the NFIP could not absorb.  The IC, as a part of the
aforementioned follow-on buy, will have procured TIVs for all of
its approved programs.  Production of these TIVs will be completed
by 2000.  It could be many years before the next TIV launch vehicle
is needed.  Thus, a major decision is needed in 2000 on whether or
not to procure more IC TIVs.  

     We believe the IC should not purchase any more TIVs after the
1997 buy and that even this buy should be reconsidered.  If the IC
goes ahead with the 1997 buy, it will have bought, by 2000, all of
the TIVs it needs for its approved programs, and then some.  As
part of the initial block buy, at least two TIVs were procured for
spacecraft that have since been cancelled.  There may be more TIVs
available if other programs discussed earlier are downsized.  
Thus, the IC has a surplus of TIV vehicles.   Based on new designs
implemented by Lockheed Martin, a satellite program is not locked
into a specific TIV configuration but can use any TIV vehicle. 
This greatly increases the IC's flexibility in using its surplus
TIVs. (These surplus vehicles could be used for the remaining heavy
lift program to protect a launch capability if the heavy lift
portion of EELV cannot support this program.)  Therefore, there is
no need for the IC to procure more TIVs, including the 1997 buy,
other than protection of the industrial base.  

     If the IC decides to buy more TIVs to keep the production line
open, it will, in essence, entail a IC commitment to the TIV
vehicle as the heavy lift benchmark for the next two decades, based
upon satellite design timelines.  In other words, the IC will be
buying launch vehicles for satellites that will not fly for years. 
Because the most cost effective time to switch launch vehicles is
between block buys, the IC will be saddled with the TIV for another
20 years.  As stated above, we believe this is the wrong direction
to take.  Hence, no more TIVs should be procured by the IC.
          RECOMMENDATION:  No Titan IVs should be purchased by the
          IC after the 1997 buy, and even that should be

     To solve the particular problem of the remaining heavy lift
program, R&D; should be increased in the area of advanced
technologies to support reducing the weight and size of the
spacecraft.  Alternate methods of performing this mission should
also be pursued with increased, objective vigor (at a minimum as a
part of the IC's Small Satellite Office's downsizing studies).  If
neither of these attempts at downsizing succeed, the IC will
obviously be left with a requirement for a heavy lift capability
but at an extremely low launch rate.  Thus, again, increased
support needs to be given to EELV to ensure that the heavy lift
derivative is closely tied to its MLV brethren.  This is the only
way that a heavy lift capability will be made affordable.

          RECOMMENDATION:  The U.S. should examine the viability of
          advanced technologies to reduce the size of satellites.

     In summary, the IC should attempt to downsize its spacecraft
to eliminate the need for the TIV.  We believe this can be achieved
in all programs save perhaps one.  R&D; should be increased in
technologies that have the potential to help the remaining program
reduce its weight and size comparable to the capability of the MLV
class of boosters (at a minimum).  The IC should also mandate, for
its programs going through a redesign phase, that they adhere to
the standard launch vehicle interface and incorporate a "ship and
shoot" approach.   Finally, the Air Force should be encouraged to
redirect their EELV program to focus solely on the heavy lift
problem while demanding that the heavy lift vehicle be based upon
a MLV derivative.  Thus, if the IC's remaining program cannot be
downsized, then EELV must provide a more cost effective heavy lift
capability than the current TIV program.  It is only in this way
that the IC will be able to rely on affordable, assured access to
space for its payloads in the 21st century.