In the last five years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has spent over $130 million to store unused satellites from eight different satellite programs, and plans to spend another $206 million on storage over the next five years. Storage costs for individual pieces of equipment range from $40,000 up to an estimated $120 million for one particular satellite. Costs vary depending on the amount of care needed for each satellite. Often satellites cannot simply be mothballed, but require expert staff for maintenance, monitoring and testing during the idle time.
The reason for the increasing storage costs is explored in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The DOD's protocol for satellites is gradually shifting toward storage on the ground rather than keeping satellites dormant in orbit until needed. Rather than launching new satellites as soon as they are built, the DOD is putting off launch dates when existing satellites last longer than expected. But this presents a problem of what to do with new satellites still on the ground, and the GAO report found that the DOD has no specific acquisition policies about contracting for such storage.
To make sure that the DOD is using the most efficient and cost-effective way of storing satellites prior to launch, the GAO recommends that the DOD develop "guidance regarding when and how to use storage in the acquisition process," and also require more data collection to enable evaluation of the "the reasonableness of contractors’ storage cost proposals and informing DOD’s oversight of satellite acquisitions."