[Satellite News 05-24-12] While hosted payload-type deals have been relatively few and far between in the industry, there is hope that there may be some more highly innovative ones coming up. All eyes will be on the United States, and whether it decides to do more of these types of deals. In a two-part interview, Col. Michael Lakos, Chief, Global Mission Support Division of the U.S. Air Force, gives the Air Force’s perspective on hosted payloads, and what could possibly happen in the near future regarding executing these types of deals.
SATELLITE NEWS: What is the Air Force Space Command’s view on the benefits of hosted payloads when beefing up capacity options?
Lakos: I think a lot of it has to do with the current budget situation we have now, not just in the United States, but also with the Department of Defense. We started the dialogue with the commercial vendors that have approached us and vice versa, and get things up into space a little bit faster and a little bit cheaper, and also support the way of disaggregation. We have several major space satellite programs that have been around for several years, but we are investigating through this Resilient Basis Study, which is focused mainly on satcom. We are looking at ways of doing things cheaper, with more resilience and to break up the way we have done business up to now. There are a lot of advantages on this kind of shift from a cost, competitive basis and perspective, as well as on a schedule basis. I know that commercial industry would be cautious with a relationship with the government and the military, as they have a pretty firm schedule and they answer to their shareholders. When they go down a path there is a schedule they want to stay in front of, so a delay in terms of a launch or declaring an operational capability usually costs money. Traditionally, it is the military that has a lot of these delays, particularly in terms of getting a payload ready to launch, so it could adversely affect a relationship with a commercial vendor.
SATELLITE NEWS: How attractive of an option have hosted payloads become?
Lakos: Lt. Gen. Pawlikowski, Commander of the Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) established a hosted payload office in 2011 to start looking at, and identifying opportunities in the commercial market and developing the business case analysis and the business approaches for trying to provide a better value to the tax payer. That is what the people at SMC are chartered to do. It is not just satcom. So, where else can we see a benefit to launching as a host with a commercial vendor? There are other areas within contracts that we are looking at in terms of doing things differently. It is hopefully going to allow Air Force Space Command to launch things sooner rather than later. That ties back to the topic of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS). We have had some success with the ORS approach, and we want to try to keep going that way. Traditionally, getting things into space has taken a long amount of time and costs a lot. Hosted payloads is definitely an area that we are looking to expand into.
SATELLITE NEWS: A few years ago, it was all about dedicated systems, but with economic instability and budget cuts, hosted payloads seem to have become a more viable option. Do you believe a fundamental shift in thinking toward hosted payloads has taken shape?
Lakos: I definitely think there has been a shift in thinking. One of things we are looking at is how the Australian Defense Force has partnered with Intelsat, having a payload on the IS-22 satellite. Those of us in the milsatcom area are looking at getting our Enhanced Polar System (EPS) into space in the near future. It is a hosted payload, but it is part of a different way of looking at the architecture. We are working together with the folks at SMC and their advanced concepts division. We have been looking at a “should be” architecture in the next five to six years, and then when you look into the distant future of 2025 to 2030, a new “could be” architecture. That would include the current programs of record such as the AEHF satellite program that we are launching today and the WGS program that has been extremely successful. We are looking at where hosted payloads fit into that, and how can we augment our current programs of record. How can we look at a more affordable alternative than the traditional acquisition approach that we have today.
The budgets are not getting any larger. They are not even staying stable. They are declining at a rate that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. We have to figure out how we sustain the current capabilities that we have in orbit, and somehow modestly increase the capabilities we deliver to the warfighter.
SATELLITE NEWS: Can you give us a timeline in terms of key decisions this year, and how you are looking to invest to boost your satellite and space based capability?
Lakos: We go through an annual programming cycle. We are always submitting plans for the budgets. In March, we submitted a preliminary budget to the folks in the Pentagon, and now they go through the traditional review process before it gets to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). At some point, the OSD budget will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget, and then they will go into their deliberations. We submitted our budget, and now it is in the hands of the headquarters Air Force to make changes or approve.