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Recently I had the opportunity to be a panelist at an event put on by the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC). The event brought together members of the private sector Hosted Payload Alliance (HPA) and SMC’s Hosted Payload Office (HPO). It was a highly productive session, and a great example of collaborative public/private dialogue.
The excellent keynote address really set the tone of the event, given by SMC director Doug Loverro. He laid out the three main reasons that hosted payloads have an important role to play in supporting the mission of the SMC. Those three are:
I had the privilege of serving on the Procurement Practices, Acquisition Models and Contracting Guidelines panel. We discussed issues such as FAR Part 12 and 15, the differences in contracting procedures based on who is the prime, and how to address the fact that the commercial sector and the government have historically contracted for satcom in different ways.
Government often works through a big systems integrator, has a long timeline and is used to making satellite design or network changes along the way. The commercial sector typically operates more directly with both the customer and the satellite manufacturer, working on a shorter timeline with few design or operational changes.
I came away from my panel convinced that both commercial and the government organizations can gain greatly through some empathy for the other’s perspective. An open and honest discourse at the beginning of the relationship around contractual obligations and risk sharing is much more constructive when you understand where the other side is coming from and how they are accustomed to acquiring satcom.
More broadly, I also believe that as much as we all would like to standardize the hosted payload model, each situation is different. Hosted payloads defy a cookie-cutter approach. There are too many variables — such as the size and weight of the payload and how specialized the type of mission is — to generalize about when a hosted payload is the right approach.
One promising idea that was raised during the event was to encourage internships and advisory positions for SMC staff inside commercial companies. This sort of cross-pollination can only strengthen the type of collaboration that is vital to making hosted payloads successful. It’s a good example of the “outside the box” thinking events like this engender, and that can foster a strong public/private partnership in space.