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Reducing Science and Satellite Operations Costs

Actions to reduce HST budgets have occurred and continue. HST program actions have reduced science and satellite operations costs, and program plans will continue to reduce costs through FY 2010. We based that conclusion on a review of program plans and implemented actions, interviews with STScI management and HST program managers, and an analysis of planned contractor staff reductions. We assessed progress of the new operating and information system, known as Vision 2000,3 through interviews with the project manager, system developer, and system users.

Planned actions conform to budget agreements between the HST Program Office and the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters. The Program Office plans to (1) eliminate two planned servicing missions after 2003, (2) implement Vision 2000 in 2000, and (3) ensure operating costs remain constant through Vision 2000 efficiencies and reduced civil service staff levels.

Eliminating the two planned servicing missions will reduce the number of contractor positions now supporting the servicing missions. Planned servicing missions are necessary because program risk, mission, and cost justify equipment modifications and replacement. The cost of Servicing Missions 1 and 2 was $378 million and $448 million respectively.4 Eliminating missions 3 and 4 would significantly degrade the telescope, could result in failure of critical equipment, and may interfere with telescope operation. The cost of replacing equipment or mission failure significantly exceeds any cost benefit of not performing the missions.

Servicing missions are more cost-efficient than return-to-Earth refurbishment or return-to-Earth and return-to-orbit flights because ground refurbishment would require mirror and optics replacement. Ground refurbishment requires NASA to dismantle the telescope to fit it into the cargo bay. Dismantling could damage the mirror and optics and make the telescope inoperable. The mirrors and optics are highly sensitive to dust and extremely fragile and must be maintained in a sterile environment.

Implementing Vision 2000 will streamline manual calculations and enable management to further reduce the number of contractor positions. These actions will save about $104 million and $30 million, respectively. The HST Program Office plans to eliminate about 250 contractor positions through 2001.5 Although budget agreements do not include the cost of civil servants, the planned actions will also reduce 100 civil service positions by 2003.

3

The Vision 2000 project is a reengineered flight operations and control system.

4 The cost of a servicing mission is determined by dividing the total Shuttle budget by the number of launches for the year. The HST Program Director provided us the costs for Servicing Missions 1 and 2.

5 The savings from the reduction of 250 contractor positions begin in 1996 and accumulate through 2001. Total amount saved is $46 million.

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