Program-Level Support Needed to Enhance Hosted Payloads Adoption

This past summer, the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) selected a list of 14 industry providers to help support the agency’s new Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) contract.

What makes HoPS unique is that it is a repeatable program that leverages commercial spacecraft to speed the implementation and reduce the cost of future government space applications.

The vision is that NASA, NOAA, the Air Force Military Satellite Communications Systems Directorate, and the Air Force Research Laboratory will all take advantage of this contract.

Still in the feasibility study phase, three contracts under HoPS have been awarded to determine the viability of using hosted payloads for a NASA pollution-monitoring instrument, which is part of NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) mission.

This will be the very first HoPS task order.

HoPS is an encouraging sign that the Air Force and other governmental space agencies are serious about using hosted payloads.  However, much more needs to be done at the program level to enhance adoption.

This was the key theme at the recent panel at the Hosted Payloads Summit in Washington, D.C.  Moderated by Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General, members of industry and government discussed delivery processes, as well as how HoPS impacts future partnership opportunities between government customers and commercial payload providers.

Lt. Col. Mark Brykowytch of SMC discussed how the agency has made tremendous strides in proving that hosted payloads are a viable concept, according to this Inside Defense article (subscription required).  However, SMC can’t require program officials to incorporate hosted payloads into their platforms.  The Hosted Payload Alliance, however, he believes is perfectly positioned to help promote and encourage use of the HoPS contract vehicle with program managers and should work towards this goal.

After the panel, Sears spoke with Inside Air Force and offered commentary about the challenge of convincing program leaders to explore new ways of operating.  Much of this is due to the common belief that the current way of doing business is easier – even if it’s costlier in the long-term, according to Sears.

“Those offices have to be incentivized to say, ‘Do I hit the easy button and buy the next in my series of free-flyers or do I look for a more cost-effective, affordable way to do the next mission set or the next-generations system?’” Sears told the magazine. “I really question the role of the program office. We have to make them the advocate.”

“Not every mission is a good hosted payload, but we have to make the program offices advocates for considering [hosted payloads] in the trade space of what’s next before they hit the easy button and just buy the next one in the series – because it’s so tempting to do,” added Sears.

The HoPS contract suggests that hosted payloads will eventually become a viable cost-savings option that will allow the U.S. government to advance space-based missions.

Overcoming program level challenges of adoption and procurement will be vital for advancing this effort.  Taking the easy way out is not always the best approach.

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