Hosted Payload Discussion Moving into Mainstream

By | June 1, 2011 | Editor's Note, Telecom

The concept has been around for a while under the names “secondary payloads” or “piggybacking,” but the first mention of the phrase “hosted payload” in our publications occurred in April 2007 in reference to a planned test of providing IP services from orbit.

Intelsat 14 was placed in orbit in November 2009 carrying the Internet Router in Space (IRIS) payload developed by Cisco Systems. The payload was developed as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. The Pentagon completed its testing of the payload in April 2010, and IRIS now is under control of Cisco, which is looking to monetize the service.

This certainly was not the first hosted payload. Among the examples listed by the Office of Space Commercialization, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, are the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Wide Area Augmentation System, which involves transponders aboard commercial communications satellites, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Nationwide Automatic Identification System, which involves a demonstration payload on an Orbcomm satellite. The SES-2 satellite, being developed to provide commercial broadcasting services over the United States and the Caribbean, also will carry the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) sensor for the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. government’s interest in hosted payloads is growing due to a mix of budget cuts and growth in hosting options. The history of the platform, however, is filled more by missed opportunities than with successes. At SATELLITE 2010, a U.S. government official cited 18 commercial satellites under production that could have carried government payloads, but because the government had no official policy on hosted payloads, only one opportunity was being used.

That number of missed opportunities is expected to increase in the coming years as satellite constellations such as Iridium Next join commercial geostationary spacecraft as options for those seeking to place a hosted payload into space.

In March, seven of the satellite sector’s biggest companies formed the Hosted Payload Alliance. The group, which includes Intelsat and SES along with Iridium, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences and Space Systems/Loral, will promote the potential benefits of hosted government payloads on commercial satellites.

Meanwhile, the interest on the government side was reinvigorated by a call in the 2010 U.S. National Space Policy for public-private partnerships to fill government satellite gaps. In April, NASA issued a solicitation for studies outlining commercial solutions to distribute data for future NASA payloads on commercial communications satellites. In the solicitation, the agency says, “The process of developing and operating the payload within the constraints of the hosted payload process is a new development method for NASA. The distribution of the payload data in real-time, or near real-time, over commercial networks is also a new operational concept for NASA.”

And in an April speech on space programs in Washington, D.C., Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the audience that “cost projections for these are just not affordable,” and cited hosted payloads as an option for the future.

Interest in hosted payloads is growing, and government and commercial interests look to be lining up for a jump in this market in the coming years.

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