Harris Corp. To Market Iridium Next Hosted Payload Capacity

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WASHINGTON — Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., has assumed responsibility for marketing residual hosted payload capacity aboard Iridium Communications’ next-generation satellite constellation slated to begin launching in 2015, Iridium announced April 24.

Additional payloads hosted aboard the 66 low Earth orbiting Iridium Next satellites will need to plug into the Harris-supplied electronics boxes already slated to fly aboard each spacecraft for the Aireon air traffic management venture. Billed as the largest hosted payload arrangement sealed to date, Aireon, a joint venture of McLean, Va.-based Iridium and Nav Canada, will sell aircraft position-location data that will enable commercial airlines to save on fuel costs by flying more efficient routes.

These data will be relayed by ADS-B antennas plugged into the Harris-supplied AppStar payload box.

In a press release, Iridium said the new arrangement could generate up to $45 million in additional hosting fees, depending on what types of deals Harris is able to secure and the level of Iridium Next resources required. The total amount of hosting fees, to be paid by Harris for the next four years, will not be finalized until the entire Iridium Next constellation is in orbit, which currently is slated to happen in 2017.

Iridium expects to generate additional fees for data transport and payload management services for as long as the payloads operate aboard the Iridium Next constellation, which is designed to last to 2030 or beyond, the press release said.

In a written response to questions, William Gattle, vice president of aerospace systems at Harris Government Communications, said Harris will not pay Iridium an upfront fee for the hosted payload marketing rights. “It is part of the expanding relationship but no specific rights are paid for other than hosting fees and data services once the additional capacity is sold,” he said.

Iridium is paying Harris $114.7 million to design and install the electronics boxes for the Aireon venture, which is expected to generate up to $200 million in hosting fees. The boxes are based on Harris’ AppStar reconfigurable payload.

In an April 30 interview, Gattle said it makes sense for Harris to try and sell the remaining hosted payload capacity because Harris better connected than Iridium to likely customers in the civil, defense and intelligence markets. 

“We’re growing at 30 percent — we’re able to sell these ideas into different marketplaces … and so they decided to partner with Harris. … It’s our channel,” Gattle said.

The AppStar box can accommodate a variety of different payloads, Gattle said. “It’s a unique concept because a lot of times hosted payloads are separate entities — ‘I have a block here, I have a brick here that I’ve got to bolt on,’” he said. “This is an integrated system with AppStar. You’re going to slide a card into this chassis. The benefit of that is you have the infrastructure of AppStar that you’re plugging into, so it’s less expensive.” 

In the written response to questions, Gattle said the time remaining to secure hosted payload space aboard the Iridium Next satellites depends on the implementation complexity. For relatively simple payloads, such as radiation monitors being considered by the U.S. Air Force, the window will not close for a few more months, he said.

The radiation monitors, or dosimeters, would enable the Air Force to distinguish between naturally occurring space radiation and satellite jamming attempts.

In the interview, Gattle declined to be specific about what other hosted payload applications Harris is marketing on Iridium Next. “We’ve looked at anything associated with tracking, or anything associated with monitoring because that’s what that system is doing,” he said. 

Gattle said Harris is looking at ways to make the AppStar box flexible enough so that it can accommodate payloads as late in the game as possible.

“Finalizing this agreement deepens our relationship with Harris, who has been a fantastic technology partner for Aireon, and allows Harris to support other applications for their customers at a fraction of the cost of what they would have to pay to develop and launch independently,” Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch said in a prepared statement. “This opportunity reinforces the power of the Iridium network and is a testament to our continued vision for added capabilities on Iridium Next beyond our core mission.”