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Jim Simpson, vice president of Business Development for Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems, discusses hosted payloads with hostedpayload.com, a community site presented by Space News.
When the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite into orbit in 1957, Boeing’s Mike Neuman, then an elementary school student, realized what he wanted to do with his life.
“I already was intrigued by space because I grew up near a NASA research center in Cleveland and was encouraged by my dad to observe and learn about the night sky,” Neuman said. “But when the Soviets began the Space Age with Sputnik 1, I thought the science of it all was very cool, so I decided to become an engineer when I grew up.”
Neuman went on to obtain three engineering degrees --- from Ohio University, the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California --- and he has spent the past 38 years building satellites at Boeing.
Today, as Boeing program manager of a four-satellite contract award from satellite services provider Intelsat, he’s an active participant in another chapter in the space era – giving military customers more bang for their satellite buck. Instead of having to buy an entire satellite, military customers are achieving their mission requirements by owning or leasing just a piece of a satellite.
By using a military payload hosted on a commercial satellite, a military customer gains access to communications bandwidth more quickly and more affordably, Neuman said. By relying on a “hosted payload,” government gets to use its payload in about a third of the time it would take to launch a dedicated military spacecraft, while also saving it hundreds of millions of dollars. The commercial satellite owner also benefits by getting a guaranteed revenue source, reducing its financial risk.
"Boeing is relying on its history of building satellites, including payloads, to enter into creative business arrangements that bring two things together: the military's insatiable need for bandwidth, and the means to lease from a commercial provider, instead of having to undergo a military procurement that would take 10 years, at best, before the satellite is in service."
“Boeing is relying on its history of building satellites, including payloads, to enter into creative business arrangements that bring two things together: the military's insatiable need for bandwidth, and the means to lease from a commercial provider, instead of having to undergo a military procurement that would take 10 years, at best, before the satellite is in service,” Neuman said.
Neuman’s deputy, Mike Connelly, called hosted payloads “the space equivalent of attaching a U.S. Postal Service cargo plane to a Boeing passenger jet.”
With U.S. and allied governments facing increasingly tight budgets, interest is growing in having Boeing place government payloads on the satellites it builds for commercial customers, said Connelly, who holds engineering and business degrees from the University of Southern California. Boeing has received a U.S. Air Force contract to study ways to modify existing commercial satellite capabilities to meet military satellite communications. And in the past two years, Boeing has announced it will build hosted payloads for two Intelsat satellites and three Inmarsat satellites.
“We are really starting down an exciting road with Boeing,” said Kay Sears, president of Intelsat General, an Intelsat subsidiary. “The government is changing and needs cost-effective solutions for military satellite communications, and Boeing is really out in front of its competitors in meeting those needs.”
The hosted payload approach is not entirely new, as Boeing has provided a number of payloads over the years that have been used on satellites built by Boeing and other manufacturers.
“We have really pushed the envelope in this area,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. “We’re actually putting operational payloads onboard those satellites. Hosted payloads that others are doing are really just experiments, they’re not operational systems. We’re doing the real deal. And Boeing is the only manufacturer to build satellites for government, intelligence and commercial markets, giving us important market domain knowledge.”
Intelsat spacecraft IS-22 will carry a communications payload for the Australian Defence Force. Another Intelsat satellite, IS-27, will carry a similar payload for the U.S. government and other Intelsat clients. Launches are scheduled to begin next year.
For Neuman, the growing popularity of hosted payloads is almost as exciting as the dawn of the Space Age.
“We’re working on the frontier,” he said. “And working on the frontier is always fun.”