Air Force Moves Forward With Plan to Piggyback Payloads on Commercial Satellites

By Stew Magnuson

After years of tests and discussions about the merits of letting military and government space systems piggyback on commercial satellites, the Air Force July 28 announced a contract worth up to $495 million for companies to integrate communications and sensor payloads on privately owned spacecraft.  

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded 14 companies the opportunity to compete against each other on projects that will allow payloads to “hitchhike” on other spacecraft.  It “provides a rapid and flexible means for the government to acquire commercial hosting capabilities for government payloads,” the center said in a statement.

The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract is worth up to $495 million over the next 15 years.

The Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) program, which is scheduled to run through 2029, will allow government agencies to plan and implement space missions much more quickly compared to the time it would take to procure an entire satellite, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website.

The administration estimated that it typically takes seven to 15 years for the government to build, launch and operate an entire satellite for space communications. However, attaching a module to a commercial satellite and sharing its power supply could cut down that time to about 24 months, the website said.

Placing a hosted payload on a commercial satellite could also cut the overall mission costs, NOAA said. “The commercial partner only charges for the integration of the payload with the spacecraft and the marginal use of power, launch services and other resources.”

The following companies received the IDIQ contracts: Astrium Services Government; Harris Corp. Government Communications Systems Business Unit; Space Systems/Loral LLC; Millennium Engineering and Integration Co.; Surrey Satellite Technology; Orbital Sciences Corp.; The Boeing Co.; Exoterra Resources; Lockheed Martin Corp.; Merging Excellence and Innovation Tech; ViviSat LLC; Intelsat General Corp.; SES Government Solutions; and Eutelsat America Corp.

The companies were placed in one of two specialized areas — geosynchronous orbit hosting or medium-Earth orbit/low-Earth orbit hosting. Under the program, companies will be able to participate in the procurement of hosted payloads for both missions and studies, the contract announcement stated.

NASA’s tropospheric emissions monitoring of pollution mission payload will be the first contract award, the center said. Up to four geostationary lane companies will be awarded study contracts to examine the feasibility of accommodating the instrument as a hosted payload. Each six-month study is valued at less than $800,000. NASA plans to use the HoPS program for the subsequent delivery order.

One of the potential award winners, Millennium Engineering and Integration, in a statement said it has worked extensively on payload technology.

“Over the past two decades, MEIT has safely and successfully integrated more than 300 payloads,” said its Chief Executive Officer David Cazes.

Intelsat General, a worldwide provider of fixed and mobile satellite services, said in a statement that after working for years to demonstrate hosted payload capabilities for government space communication, the company was eager to begin work on the HoPS project.

“We look forward to successfully bidding on a number of hosted payload contracts in the coming years that will provide the best value and resiliency for our U.S. government customers,” said Skot Butler, the company’s vice president of satellite networks and space services.

Companies will focus on when and where hosted payloads will best suit the needs of the government to enhance space missions, the award announcement said.

Topics: Space

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