U.S. Air Force adoption of a streamlined process to buy piggyback rides for government payloads on commercial spacecraft should go a long way toward accelerating the nascent hosted-payload industry, which has languished after a faltering start.

The USAF Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts worth as much as $494.9 million each over five years to 14 companies it judges able to put military and civil payloads on commercial satellites. The goal of the Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) program is to save taxpayers’ money by sharing the housekeeping services of power supply, data-handling and communications with the spacecraft owner.

“Let’s say you wanted to put up a few transponders of your own for a particular waveform,” says USAF Space Command chief Gen. William Shelton. “Why create a whole new satellite to do that, when there’s available size, weight and power to do that?”

That has not always been the favored approach at the service, where ambitious officers sometimes saw more benefit in having development of a complete spacecraft on their resumes. Now tight budgets have put a premium on affordability, and under Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski’s tenure as SMC commander, the service has pushed hosted payloads.

“When you look at the government cycle associated with getting funding allocated to fly particular missions, frankly, it’s inconsistent with the commercial cycle,” says Janet Nickloy, vice president of strategy for the Government Communications Systems Div. at Harris Corp. and chair of the Hosted Payload Alliance. “Getting hosted payloads as part of the strategy, and building in the budget and the contractual vehicle to do that are critical. HoPS allows us to check one of those boxes.”

Companies winning the HoPS IDIQ contracts are: Astrium Government Services Inc., Harris Corp. Government Communications Systems, Space Systems/Loral, Millennium Engineering & Integration Co., Surrey Satellite Technology U.S., Orbital Sciences Corp., The Boeing Co., Exoterra Resources, Lockheed Martin Corp., Merging Excellence and Innovation Tech Inc., ViviSat, Intelsat General Corp., SES Government Solutions and Eutelsat America Corp. 

Officers from the SMC Hosted Payload Office will brief company executives on upcoming hosting opportunities at a workshop this month, and try to match government requirements with hosting opportunities. Based on the lessons learned in getting USAF’s Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (Chirp) launched on an SES satcom, Nickloy says it is likely to take at least two more years before a government hosted payload is launched under the HoPS effort. The first probably will be NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution mission, which SMC has designated as the lead HoPS procurement (AW&ST May 20, p. 23).

Up to four of the HoPS companies will receive six-month study contracts worth as much as $800,000 to find a ride for the NASA sensor package, which will be designed to scan North America in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths from its perch on a geostationary satcom for concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

After that, “I think the sky’s the limit for us to pursue the hosted-payload business,” says Shelton. 

Nickloy estimates there are 30-40 hosting opportunities a year across the low-, medium- and geostationary-orbit (LEO, MEO and GEO) categories covered by the HoPS contracts. The second-generation Iridium-NEXT LEO satcom constellation includes hosted payloads in its business plan, and contract winner Surrey just announced it will make room on a second SSTL-150 bus to be launched in mid-2016 for hosted payloads that will ride with its own electronic testbed to evaluate components, processors and memory devices.

One early military hosted payload under HoPS may be an experimental payload in GEO to evaluate V- and W-band frequencies, according to information circulated by SMC at an industry day in April. Other possibilities mentioned were a Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer built by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Air Force Defense Weather Directorate; various Air Force Research Laboratory experimental payloads; a French-built Advanced Data Collection System designed to receive data from ocean buoys and electronic-tagged marine life for NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and, for the same civilian agencies, Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking gear.