LONG BEACH, Calif. — The U.S. Air Force has identified six candidate payloads — half of which come from civilian agencies — that could be matched with commercial host satellites through the service’s soon-to-be-awarded Hosted Payload Solutions contract.

However, a follow-on to the recently concluded Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload mission, in which an experimental missile-warning sensor was flown on a communications satellite, will not be among them, Air Force Col. Scott Beidleman, director of development planning at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, said here April 2 during a panel discussion at the 2014 Space Tech Expo conference.

The maximum combined value of potential task orders under the indefinite-quantity, indefinite-delivery contract would be roughly $500 million, Beidleman said. Awards are expected in June, he said.

Beidleman also confirmed that NASA — not the military — likely will be the first agency to book a ride through the Hosted Payload Solutions contract. Also known as HoPS, the contract will broker rides for missions launching between 2016 and 2020.

As things stood April 2, NASA’s $90 million Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument “is on docket to be our first delivery order,” Beidleman said. NASA acknowledged last year it was considering using the Air Force’s hosted payload contract to secure a ride for this instrument, but only signaled firm intent to do so in late March, Beidleman said.

According to a slide displayed by Beidleman, the other five early HoPS candidates and sponsoring organizations are: 

  • W/V Band, Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force Military Satellite Communications Systems Directorate. The experimental geostationary payload would investigate the feasibility of using the V- and W-band frequencies for future military satellite communications systems.
  • Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer, Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force Defense Weather Systems Directorate. This payload, being built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., would measure ocean-surface wind direction, precipitation, cloud liquid water, precipitation rates and sea ice. It is based on the Advanced Microwave Radiometer flying on the Franco-U.S. Jason-2 satellite in low Earth orbit.
  • Unspecified experimental payloads developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M.
  • Advanced Data Collection System, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. This instrument, built by the French space agency, CNES, monitors data gathered by sensors attached to ocean buoys and marine animals. The payload was orphaned when a joint U.S. civil-military weather satellite program was canceled in 2010.
  • Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking, NOAA and NASA. Also displaced by the cancellation of the civil-military program, this instrument detects signals from emergency search-and-rescue beacons. It was developed jointly by CNES and the Canadian Department of National Defence. 

A seventh candidate payload, an Air Force package called the Responsive Environmental Assessment Commercially Hosted Demo, was considered for the HoPS contracting vehicle but will not be ready to fly by 2020, one of Beidleman’s slides said. The instrument would monitor radiation levels in low Earth orbit and attempt to distinguish between natural and man-made radiation sources.

HoPS, which has been in the works since 2012, is the Air Force’s way of creating a template for government space payloads, especially military payloads, to take advantage of spare capacity routinely available on commercial satellites. The Air Force issued its final solicitation for HoPS in August and has received a “very robust response” from industry, Beidleman said.

Meanwhile, Beidleman said a tight Air Force budget has forced the service to shelve a proposed successor to the Air Force’s first commercially hosted payload, an experimental missile-warning sensor that until its deactivation in December made infrared observations from its commercial geostationary host satellite, SES-2 owned by SES of Luxembourg.

“I would have liked to have said that the No. 1 opportunity for our first delivery order [on HoPS] would have been a wide-field-of-view capability follow-up to” the Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload that launched in 2011, Beidleman said. However, “it was not in the budget to do that. That’s on the shelf, and the Infrared Systems Directorate is doing what they need to do to capitalize on other capabilities first.”

Beidleman said the recently concluded mission at most cost $200 million, “which includes ground systems … and just about everything you could throw into the bucket,” Beidleman said.


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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...