Intelsat General Corp. (IGC) recently responded to a request for information from the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space concerning the national security implications of using commercial launch providers to put government satellites in orbit.
IGC is in a uniquely strong position to weigh in on this question. As a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat S.A., the world’s largest commercial fixed satellite services (FSS) operator, we provide more commercial FSS services to the U.S. government than any other satellite operator. Our space asset replacement missions are more numerous and more frequent than those of any other company. Intelsat has been launching an average of 2-3 satellites every year for 50 years.
Today, the U.S. domestic choices available for both government and commercial satellite launches have never been more limited. A single company, the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture of United Launch Alliance (ULA), owns the market for government satellite launches. Commercial satellite operators are usually forced to rely on European and Russian companies for their launches because there is no flight-proven heavy-lift U.S. launch vehicle that can provide competitive launch pricing. And with the recent explosion of a Russian Proton rocket, even those options are in serious question.
The shortage of U.S. domestic launch providers undermines national security and American superiority in space. Commercial space assets and services are vital to the U.S. government due to the critical role communications play in national security. If commercial companies want to use ULA for launches, they are forced to compete with the government for a severely limited number of launch slots besides paying the higher cost of these launches.
The space launch situation could become a major issue if the government decides to utilize more hosted payloads, because they ride on commercial satellites which require competitive access to launches. Hosted payloads — putting military, civil or intelligence capabilities into operation on commercial platforms more quickly and cost effectively than military owned satellites – would offer many government users a great deal of flexibility, especially in the current fiscal environment. In addition, hosted payloads can support the disaggregation of military assets, which would immediately increase national security.
With the soon-to-be-announced Hosted Payload Solutions request for proposal, the Hosted Payload Office in the U.S. Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) intends to pre-qualify major satellite manufacturers and commercial operators to bid on hosted payload opportunities. Such payloads could be part of virtually all SMC missions, from overhead persistent infrared for the nation’s early missile warnings to communications and weather missions.
In today’s austere budget climate, hosted payload solutions are extremely viable and cost effective. We hope that this space-launchassessment will enable the government to more fully embrace the advantages of hosted payloads, and that the government will be open to allowing other commercial launch providers to get these assets into space. This is an approach that will tremendously benefit both government and industry — especially when resources are stretched and mission requirements remain high.