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NASA's Deep Space Network: Current Management Structure Is Not Conducive to Effectively Matching Resources with Future Requirements

Status Report From: Government Accountability Office
Posted: Monday, May 22, 2006

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Full report (PDF)

What GAO Found

While NASA's Deep Space Network can meet most requirements of its current workload, it may not be able to meet near-term and future demand. The system—suffering from an aging, fragile infrastructure with some crucial components over 40 years old—has lost science data during routine operations and critical events. In addition, new customers find they must compete for this limited capacity, not just with each other, but also with legacy missions extended past their lifetimes, such as NASA's Voyager, that nonetheless return valuable science. Program officials doubt they can provide adequate coverage to an increasing set of new mission customers, especially if they increase dramatically under the President's Vision.

The Deep Space Network's future utility is also in question because NASA does not currently match funding for space communications capabilities with agency wide space communications requirements. While NASA created an agency level entity to review the technical requirements for integrating assets like the network into an agency wide space communications architecture for the future, that entity does not address program level requirements nor influence investment decisions. Control over such requirements and funding remains with the mission directorates and programs themselves. This disconnect allows programs to invest in capabilities that may undercut agency wide goals for space communications. After this review was initiated, NASA began to study how to better manage this gap between agency-level requirements and program-level funding, but no recommendations for action have yet been proposed.

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