CHIRP highlighted within the SES-2 satellite. Credit: SES

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is moving forward on multiple fronts in the hosted payload arena, most notably with the Aug. 1 release of a final request for proposals for a contracting vehicle designed to standardize the processes for placing dedicated military capabilities aboard commercial satellites.

In two other notices on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force also announced its intent to sign a contract for continued testing of an experimental missile warning sensor aboard a commercial telecommunications satellite and asked for industry input on a proposed follow on mission.

The Air Force set a Sept. 16 due date for industry responses to the the Hosted Payload Solutions, or HoPS, solicitation, whose aim is to set a stable of qualified providers of services for hosted payload missions. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, which procures U.S. military space systems, plans to award multiple indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts to a mix of satellite operators and space hardware manufacturers starting in June 2014. 

Meanwhile, the service in July announced it is extending the life of its pioneering Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) mission that launched in September 2011. CHIRP is an experimental Air Force missile-warning sensor that was installed and launched into orbit aboard the SES-2 telecommunications satellite owned by fleet operator SES of Luxembourg. 

According to the July announcement, which has since been removed from the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Air Force has the option to extend the mission every six months through July 2015 for a total cost of $25 million.

SES spokeswoman Nicole Robinson confirmed Aug. 20 that the CHIRP contract had in fact been extended but referred questions about the terms of the extension to the Air Force. 

Finally, Air Force officials issued a request for information Aug. 5 for a prototype wide-field-of-view staring sensor payload to be hosted aboard a yet-to-be-selected commercial communications satellite.  The mission, a follow on to CHIRP, will have a three- to five-year mission life and cost less than $42 million, according to the notice.

The Air Force has $26 million budgeted for that effort this year as part of the Space Based Infrared System Space Modernization Initiative, according to budget documents. The Space Based Infrared System is the Pentagon’s primary missile warning satellite system. 


After Hosted Payload Success, U.S. Air Force Plans Follow-on

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...