The phrase “flexible payloads” apparently means different things to different people, judging from the remarks of satellite operator Hispasat and of satellite builders.

Operators and builders agree that the ability to redeploy coverage in orbit as the market evolves over a satellite’s 15-year life is something operators want. But satellite manufacturers say such technology, which is still in its infancy, remains expensive. Prices will not come down, they say, until the traditionally conservative satellite-operator community orders more of them.

Hispasat of Spain sees it differently. Antonio Abad, Hispasat’s chief technology officer, said flexible payloads by their nature should be ideal candidates for bulk production by manufacturers since coverage areas do not need to be determined satellite by satellite.

Insofar as this is the case, he said, the more flexible a satellite payload becomes, the less expensive it should be compared with payloads tailor-made for specific, largely unchanging coverage areas.

“Flexible payloads should mean lower cost,” Abad said during a Sept. 8 debate on satellite technology trends. “It is not clear why we should pay the prices we see today. It should allow storing of generic equipment” at manufacturers’ plants, permitting operators to move toward off-the-shelf purchasing.

“This would be a revolution,” Abad said. “If the satellite manufacturers want to look at the future, this is one area where they should look.”

Hispasat, with investment by the 18-nation European Space Agency (ESA), is purchasing a satellite whose payload is designed to offer flexibility and re-configurability in orbit through on-board signal processing.

The Redsat payload, being developed by Spanish industry with a direct radiating array antenna, will fly on the Hispasat AG1 satellite, the first to use the Small-Geo platform developed with ESA funds by prime contractor OHB Technology of Germany. The satellite is scheduled for launch in 2012.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.