Satellite Makers To Study Hosting NASA Atmospheric Sensor

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UPDATED July 30 at 3:01 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — Three U.S. commercial satellite manufacturers will design accommodations aboard their spacecraft for a NASA atmospheric sensor under the first batch of contracts awarded using the U.S. Air Force’s new hosted payload contracting vehicle.

Boeing Network and Space Systems of El Segundo, California; Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia; and Space Systems/Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, California, will examine ways to fly NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, or TEMPO, instrument, according to Mike Finneran, a spokesman at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

As expected, NASA is using the Air Force’s new Hosted Payload Solutions (HoPS) contracting vehicle to execute the mission. The Air Force on July 28 announced it would be awarding multiple contracts under the HoPS program to examine the feasibility of hosting the TEMPO instrument aboard a commercial satellite operating in geostationary orbit. A formal request for proposals to host the payload is expected in 2015.

The Air Force estimated the value of the six-month study contracts at less than $800,000 apiece. That would put the combined value of the newly announced awards at less than $2.4 million.

“NASA is looking forward to working with the commercial satellite industry to identify a host system and define an interface for the TEMPO instrument,” Alan Little, NASA’s TEMPO mission project manager at Langley, said in a July 29 press release from SSL. “Their creative ideas will help make this important pollution monitoring system possible.”

On July 10, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, which procures U.S. military space systems, awarded indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity HoPS contracts to 14 aerospace businesses. The awards effectively created a stable of companies qualified to support the utilization of commercial satellites to host government payloads using standardized interfaces and processes.

Industry officials have long said hosted payloads can provide the government more-timely and lower-cost access to space for certain capabilities. With the addition of these 14 companies, a mix of satellite operators and space hardware manufacturers, the government now has a range of options to choose from.

The Air Force has $494 million available for HoPS awards and has structured the program to support about six hosted payload missions. It is unclear whether NASA missions utilizing the HoPS contracting vehicle count against those totals.

The TEMPO mission aims to create a new dataset of ozone, ozone precursors, clouds and aerosols that will help scientists understand and predict air quality. The instrument, being built by a team of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, is expected to be completed in 2017.

The total TEMPO mission cost is capped at $90 million.

“The TEMPO study gives us the opportunity to help our government find a very cost-effective solution for monitoring the health of the planet from space,” SSL President John Celli said in a July 29 company press release.

Diana Ball, a Boeing spokeswoman, said in a July 29 email that while the company has hosted communications payloads on-orbit, the TEMPO mission provides an opportunity to pursue scientific instruments.