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IEEE Aerospace Conference: Hosted Payload Opportunities and Surrey’s Lessons Learned

Hosted payloads are starting to steal some of the spotlight away from traditional missions because the industry is starting to recognize the critical role they can play in the development of new space technologies as well as in the provision of operational services. The topic is so important, in fact, hosted payloads were the subject of a dedicated session at the 2014 IEEE Aerospace Conference in Big Sky, Montana, held March 1–8.
Big Sky, Montana [Image credit: M. Brummitt]
Surrey defines a hosted payload as equipment or a subsystem that is not part of the primary mission, but is accommodated, flown, and operated using commercial satellite and ground segment resources and capabilities missions. The combination of budget constraints, increasing technical capabilities, and the increasing maturity of the hosted payload approach are factors now driving the interest in hosted payloads.

Historically, many hosted payloads have been new components, advanced sensors, or redesigned subsystems that need to be tested in the real space environment as technical demonstrations or backup equipment before they are employed in active service. Recently, however, there has also been increasing interest in flying operational payloads as hosted payload missions.

In addition to mission risk mitigation, hosted payload scenarios can provide other significant advantages for customers and end users. Finances are a significant factor because the cost to fly as a hosted payload is often far less than that of a dedicated mission. Also, the time to orbit is often shorter when the demonstration payload is assigned to a commercially focused mission that is already well into the planning phase. The commercial objectives can help to set the pace to ensure that the hosted payload is ready in time to fit in with the mission timescales.

Image credit: 2014 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Call for Papers

On behalf of Surrey co-authors Anita Bernie and Dr. John Paffett, Marissa Brummitt presented a paper at the IEEE conference entitled, “Exploiting Hosted Payload Opportunities: Surrey’s Lessons Learned from OTB and Other Missions” within the “Spacecraft & Launch Vehicle Systems & Technologies” conference track.

“Hitching a ride on a mission under development isn’t always easy,” said Brummitt, OTB systems engineer at Surrey Satellite Technology US. “Aligning the hosted payload schedule with the primary mission can be difficult unless you have an approach that provides the flexibility to wait until quite late in the overall program to accommodate payload-specific requirements and freeze certain elements of the design.”

Another major hurdle to hosting payloads is the lack of excess capacity available on the satellite itself. Most satellite builders only entertain the idea of a secondary payload if it fits within the mass, power, and volume available on the bus after all the needs of the primary mission have been met.

“That’s a stumbling block because there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to hosting payloads,” she said.

Using Surrey’s current Orbital Test Bed (OTB) mission as an example, Brummitt explained that on many of its programs Surrey takes a different approach, making payload hosting a complementary objective alongside the primary customer mission, rather than an afterthought. This flexibility makes it easier for Surrey to manifest additional sensors, subsystems, and equipment on board its satellites.

The driving force behind the OTB mission was for Surrey to gain on-orbit validation for its own technology developments. However, Surrey purposely oversized the platform and advertised its additional capacity to accommodate other payloads. The OTB manifest comprises seven hosted payloads, including several “orphan” payloads needing a rapid, low-cost option for getting to orbit.

In addition to building excess capacity into the mission design, Surrey remained flexible throughout the process of negotiating with potential payload developers to ensure maximum compatibility for the suite of payloads. Twice, Surrey increased the power and mass capabilities of the bus to handle payload requirements, and also adapted the mechanical configuration to provide the most efficient accommodation and packaging solution to meet the needs of the overall mission.

“Integrating payloads from different sources onto one spacecraft is not a common skillset,” said Brummitt. “We have accumulated unrivaled and highly specialized mission integration experience, having hosted over fifty payloads on thirty-one of our satellites launched to date…and we understand how to leverage the rewards and minimize risk.”
 
According to Brummitt, Surrey’s flexible approach to hosted payload missions surprised some in the audience at the IEEE session, but those who took part in the discussion period were eager to learn more about OTB and the planned future OTB mission series, news of which will be released in the coming months.

 

06 March 20140 Comments1 Comment

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