Military/National Security Space Activities

Military/National Security Space Activities

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Brief Introduction

U.S. National Security Space Policy

Other Related George W. Bush Administration Policies Affecting Military Space

For More Information


The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act specified that U.S. military space activities would be conducted by the Department of Defense (DOD), while creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct the nation’s civil space program.

Today, the term “national security space” is often used to encompass the space activities of the intelligence community as well as DOD. National security space programs include launch vehicles and satellite systems for reconnaissance, early warning of missile launches and nuclear detonations, navigation, communications, and weather. Many of these systems have counterparts in the civil and commercial sectors; the line between national security and civil space systems can be quite blurry. For example, the Global Positioning System (GPS) of navigation satellites is a DOD system, but it enables pervasive civil and commercial applications from precision farming to cell phones to automobile navigation systems.

Although NASA conducts a much more visible space program, DOD’s space program is larger. There is no easy way to track national security space funding since “space” is not a specific item in DOD’s budget. A portion of these activities are classified (“black”) programs for which budgetary information is not available on an unclassified basis. The rest of the funding is for unclassified (“white”) programs, but is spread throughout the DOD budget in research and development (R&D), operations and management (O&M), and procurement accounts for the three services and defense-wide activities. The majority of funding is in the Air Force accounts, but is difficult to identify except for major programs. According to the fiscal year (FY) 2007 edition of the annual Aeronautics and Space Report of the President (the most recent available), DOD’s FY2007 space budget was $22.4 billion, which is thought to represent all spending (classified and unclassified) for national security space activities. By comparison, NASA’s total FY2007 budget was $16.3 billion (including about $700 million for aeronautics).

DOD’s unclassified space systems include the following programs, some of which are operational and others still in development:

  • Communications Satellites: Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS), Wide-Band Global Satcom (WGS), Milstar, Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF), and Transformational Satellite Communications (TSAT).
  • Navigation Satellites: Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Early Warning: Defense Support Program (DSP), Space Based Infrared Satellite System-High (SBIRS-High), Third Generation Infrared Surveillance (3GIRS)
  • Weather: Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS – a joint program with NOAA and NASA)
  • Ballistic Missile Defense-related: Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS, formerly SBIRS-Low)
  • Launch Vehicles: Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (Atlas V and Delta IV), Pegasus, Taurus, Minotaur (all of these also are used by the civil space sector)

DOD also has programs that address the needs for space situational awareness, space control, and operationally responsive space.


U.S. space policy, including national security space policy, was most recently enunciated by President Barack Obama in his National Space Policy, released on June 28, 2010. The Obama policy supersedes the policy issued in 2006 by President George W. Bush.

Other reviews are have been or are being conducted relative to national security space. A congressionally-directed “Space Posture Review” (sec. 913, P.L. 110-417) was due to be delivered to Congress on December 1, 2009, but was delayed pending completion of the National Space Policy. DOD also issued a congressionally required “Quadrennial Defense Review,” and with other agencies is working on a presidentially-directed review of U.S. export control policies.

In February 2011, DOD and the Director of National Intelligence issued a National Security Space Strategy (NSSS) to begin the implementation phase of those aspects of the Obama National Space Policy. In addition to an unclassified summary of the NSSS, three other documents were released:

NSSS Unclassified Fact Sheet
NSSS Briefing Slides
NSSS DOD Initiatives Fact Sheet


When the Obama White House released its overarching national space policy in June 2010, it stated that it would release additional specific space policies in the coming months on other topics as previous Presidents have done. Other space policies that were promulated during President George W. Bush’s administration related to national security space are:


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a number of reports about national security space programs. For a list of its most recent reports, look on the left menu of our home page under “Government Accountability Office.”

Also on the left menu of our home page is a link to “Other Reports of Interest” that may be helpful.

For historical information, the following reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) may be helpful.

Space Programs: Civilian, Military and Commercial June 13, 2006 (Previous version: November 17, 2005)

Military Space Activities: Issues Concerning DOD’s SBIRS and STSS Programs. January 30, 2006

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