The Business Case for Hosted Payloads
On May 25, 1961, President John F Kennedy stated in his Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, that “we go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.” Albeit his comment was more aimed at the then recent Soviet activity with the launch of Sputnik 1 and the United States’ role in space, the President did touch on a valid point. The concept of sharing capital investment costs across multiple organizations is why the Government and commercial space sectors view hosted payloads with great optimism. For the uninitiated, a hosted payload is an integrated payload or instrument on a host satellite that is dependent upon one or more of the host spacecraft’s subsystems (such as Power) for functionality. Tightening fiscal constraints on Government funds and the recent boon of commercial space activity is increasing the visibility and benefits associated with hosted payloads. Much progress has been made over the last few years to demonstrate the effectiveness of the hosted payload construct, but the question now is if the business case closes.
In our experience, hosted payloads can bring a myriad of cost reduction benefits when compared to a standalone spacecraft. First is the sharing of production costs. Instead of a payload having its own spacecraft, multiple payloads can be placed on a single bus and share in the accommodation (power requirements, available space, etc) and spacecraft cost. For instance if a hosted payload uses 10% of the total available payload mass and power, then the customer would pay 10% of the Bus price. Our research has indicated this approach can reduce payload development costs by as much as 50%, as well as lower program management and launch costs, when compared to a similar standalone system.
Another benefit is the shorter timeline to get on orbit. Instead of developing and procuring an entire satellite system, payloads can be developed in a shorter timeframe and integrated onto an already existing bus. This makes hosted payloads ideal for inclusion as part of an on-orbit development testing strategy in addition to performing operational missions. Historically, spacecraft schedules from concept to launch are 5-10 years. Today, commercial hosting providers are offering services to have payloads on orbit less than 18 months after delivery. Payload manufacturing timelines themselves have also shortened as shown by recent programs such as WAAS and IRIS, where production was complete in approximately 24 months.
A third benefit is the increase in operational resiliency. Traditional, monolithic satellites are highly capable, but large and consolidated, which can lead to a higher risk of on-orbit mission failure. Hosted payloads used in a disaggregated fashion on multiple spacecraft can increase resiliency through economies of scale. They can in a sense be associated with the old idiom of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.
Lastly, hosted payloads bring greater operational efficiencies once on-orbit through reduction in lifecycle costs. Many hosts also offer the added capability of using existing ground infrastructure and facilities. Companies could certainly develop and operate dedicated ground systems, but the capital investment associated with simply building it, much less operating it, would bankrupt most small countries. As with sharing of spacecraft and launch costs, sharing ground infrastructure yields operational efficiencies that help develop a stronger business case for hosted payloads into the future.
Cost improvements, faster development and quicker access to space, increased architecture resiliency, and greater operational efficiencies just scratch the surface of this approach to on-orbit capability. Although Kennedy’s main goal was a man on the moon and to make the statement to the Russians that space should be shared, hosting payloads is a unique opportunity to take his words further into the future.
The opportunity to launch commercially is growing every year and space access is increasing at rates never seen. There are at least 3,000 spacecraft launching in the next 30 years that could be the right fit for hosting payloads. Finding the right host, or ensuring customers are aware of your capacity, is a difficult and time consuming process. Omnispaceaccess.com makes it easy for payload and satellite owner/operators to find and publicize hosting opportunities in real time. Visit OMNI Space Access to see what opportunities are currently available.
The author, Matthew Beck, is a Senior Analyst for OMNI Consulting Solutions, LLC. He specializes in space system cost estimating and hosted payload business case analysis. He can be contacted via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created: February 29, 2016