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Cost, Technical, and Acquisition Differences Between Military and Commercial Communication Satellites

Management & Lessons Learned Track

Downloadable Files:

M&LL-6 Thomas Paper Revision Commercial vs Military Space


The purpose of this briefing is to explain differences between commercial and military communication satellite acquisition and how these differences impact development and production costs.

The goal of Air Force satellite acquisitions is to maximize operational capabilities while minimizing development and procurement costs. While sound in concept, these goals often end up being contradictory. One overarching contribution to this is the common misconception within government satellite acquisition community concerning the applicability of commercial practices to meet operational requirements. It is not unusual to see government proposals, user expectations, or other leadership opinions advertising significant increases in capability over existing military communication satellites while at the same time promising to deliver these capabilities at a greatly reduced cost – principally from the benefit of commercial advances.

This briefing illustrates why the application of commercial hardware does not significantly reduce military satellite development and production costs by identifying the major acquisition, operational, and technical differences between military and commercial communication satellites. It identifies how key performance parameters and acquisition strategies impact cost and program schedule.


Duncan Thomas
Duncan D. Thomas serves with the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency (AFCAA) as Technical Director to the Space Programs Division. In this position he is responsible for all data collection, normalization, research, model development, and estimating standards for Air Force space cost estimating. Prior to this, Duncan served as Chief of the Space Programs Division at AFCAA.

Mr. Thomas has been involved with cost analysis for over 18 years beginning as an intern and junior analyst for three years at Northrop Corporation, junior/mid/and senior analyst for 12 years with Tecolote Research, Inc., two years as Manager and Chief Scientist of the Cost Estimating Branch of MEVATEC Corporation, and the last five years with the AFCAA Space Division. Major program estimating and cost research efforts include the Air Force Follow- on Early Warning System (FEWS), US Army Theatre High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and RAH-66 Comanche helicopter, and research for Tooling for Composite Parts (presented at the 33rd DoDCAS). Mr. Thomas has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

Linda Snow
Linda Snow is a senior cost analyst with Tecolote Research, Inc. and is currently providing support to the Space and Launch Division, Air Force Cost Analysis Agency (AFCAA). Ms. Snow has over twenty-two years of cost analysis experience. Ms. Snow has supported multiple programs within the DoD and Intelligence Community with an emphasis on aircraft, missile, and satellite systems. Ms. Snow is working for AFCAA providing support in the formulation and examination of cost estimates and the development of historical cost databases for major space acquisition programs. Ms. Snow is a graduate of State University of New York at Buffalo and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management and Accounting.

Meghan Connelly
Meghan Connelly is a cost analyst for Northrop Grumman IT TASC currently providing cost support for the Air Force Cost Analysis Agency (AFCAA). Miss Connelly has over two years of experience working for Intelligence Community and Department of Defense customers, performing cost estimating, risk analysis, and model development on various Automated Information Systems (AIS)/Space programs. Miss Connelly has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh.

Current and recent estimates involve supporting the National Security Space Office (NSSO) on the Space-based Infra-Red Architectural Alternatives Study (SbIRAAS) cost team and a being an primary member of the Space Radar (SR) Independent Cost Assessment (ICA) team.