Industry Says DoD Hosted Payload Guidance Too Restrictive

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WASHINGTON — Pentagon guidance for hosting military communications payloads aboard commercial satellites is drawing criticism from industry for being too restrictive.

The Sept. 24 guidance from the office of the Pentagon’s chief information officer, Teri Takai, would discourage industry investment in hosted payloads, according to industry sources.

Under the guidance, a commercial satellite operator hosting a U.S. military payload would have to gain Department of Defense (DoD) approval before moving its spacecraft. DoD also could restrict the movement of a satellite providing critical capability until it can acquire similar capability in the same geographic area.

“At a time when threats to our space systems are increasing and budgets are decreasing, this seems like a clear step in the wrong direction,” an industry source, who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing DoD, told Space News via email. “We hope the Department will decide to revise these guidelines in consultation with its industry partners to enable the architectural changes that foster greater resiliency in a budget environment that requires focus on affordability in combination with mission capability.”

Industry sources said the Sept. 24 guidance runs counter to the spirit of current U.S. space policy, which encourages government agencies to take advantage of opportunities to place payloads on commercial satellites.

The U.S. National Space Policy released in June 2010, for example, directed agencies to “acquire … hosted payload arrangements that are reliable, responsive to United States Government needs, and cost-effective.” An unclassified summary of the U.S. National Security Space Strategy released in January 2011 included hosted payloads in a short list of “innovative solutions” that “can deliver capability, should [U.S. government] space systems be attacked.”

Industry sources complained that Pentagon’s Office of the Chief Information Officer developed the hosted-payload guidance without satellite industry input.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler, the Pentagon’s deputy chief information officer for C4 and information infrastructure capabilities, issued the guidance to Air Force Space Command, the Defense Information Systems Agency and all four military service branches, among others.

“The Department of Defense continues to evaluate the potential of hosting communications payloads on commercial satellites to provide improved services to the Warfighter,” Wheeler wrote in a memo accompanying the three-page guidance document. “There have been discussions with industry of a general nature and with vendors offering specific proposals to host communications payloads authorized to operate in spectrum limited to military usage in the United States and Possessions.”

Under the Sept. 24 guidance, spectrum that is limited to military use onboard the commercial satellite would be reserved for U.S. military use for the life of the hosting satellite. “The satellite owner/operator will not disclose, acknowledge, discuss, or the lease the capacity of the hosted payload to allied governments or any other entity without written DoD approval,” the guidance states.

Any hosted-payload contract the military negotiates with industry, the guidance says, should also stipulate that DoD — and not the satellite operator — will own the hosted payloads’ orbital location and frequency rights and may use those allotments for other government purposes, “including the placement of military satellites or other hosted payloads using the same frequency and orbital location.”

In the event of radio frequency interference that limits the use of a hosted payload, the guidance states, the satellite owner would be responsible for fixing the problem and liable for the cost of the loss of DoD service.

If a satellite owner declares bankruptcy, goes out of business or stops performing contract duties for any reason, the government would have the right to transfer ownership of the hosting satellite and control station to a government-approved buyer or to the government itself. Under that scenario, the government would also have the right to acquire the services of the satellite control station for a period of at least a year, the guidance states.

Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association  here, declined to comment on the Pentagon’s Sept. 24 guidance for obtaining military satellite communications services from commercial providers via hosted payloads.

However, she said her group will continue to promote discussion between the commercial industry and the DoD on hosted payload policy.

“We fully believe that hosted payloads are an important option to meet the DoD’s requirements and leverage the capabilities of the commercial industry,” Cooper said Oct. 16.