With budgets tight across the federal government, some agencies are finding innovative ways to accomplish their missions that are both cost effective and efficient. One of the agencies leading the way and cutting costs creatively is NASA, which is finding new, less expensive paths to space.
The desire to accomplish its mission in space without breaking the bank has led NASA to embrace Hosted Payloads. Hosted Payloads effectively involve the placement of government payloads on commercial spacecraft. This enables government agencies – such as NASA – to “hitch a ride” to space instead of paying to build and launch their own satellites.
One of NASA’s upcoming Hosted Payload programs is TEMPO. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Beals, the TEMPO Program Manager at NASA, to discuss the program, what data it will deliver to NASA, how it will help the government and why NASA chose to launch TEMPO as a Hosted Payload.
Here is what Mr. Beals had to say:
GovSat Report: What is NASA’s TEMPO Project? What information and data will it gather for NASA? What will NASA use this data for?
David Beals: TEMPO stands for “Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution.” It’s a scanning ultraviolet/visible spectrometer designed to measure chemical species critical to air quality over Greater North America, specifically Ozone (O3), Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and Formaldehyde (H2CO).
The resolution of TEMPO will allow tracking of pollutants at sub-urban scales, once an hour, across the United States – including parts of Canada and Mexico. The TEMPO data will improve air quality forecasts and assimilation systems; improve assessments, e.g., observations to support United Nations Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution; and could result in near real-time maps of pollution types, concentrations, and predictions.
NASA, the Smithsonian Institute, and scientists across the globe will learn about the sources, concentrations, and how pollution travels – this will aid in understanding the fundamental mechanisms and effects of pollutions as well as allowing early warning for people who are sensitive to the effects of pollution.
GovSat Report: TEMPO is expected to be a Hosted Payload. Why is NASA going this route with TEMPO, GOLD and other payloads?
David Beals: The Hosted Payload concept is a win-win for government and industry. The commercial capability and experience is so very impressive – these are beautifully made high reliability satellites with deep operational experience, and they are going to GEO – just where TEMPO needs to be.
NASA gets to take advantage of industry’s expertise and saves considerable cost over a dedicated or shared government owned satellite. Industry gets another customer and that helps their business case. I think it makes sense for NASA and industry – we’ll get outstanding service and support at a reasonable price; it really is a great example of industry doing what they do best and NASA concentrating on building an advanced instrument and getting the science.
David Beals: A commercially Hosted Payload of a NASA instrument is new in some respects, yet familiar in others. We are working hard to find the balance of meeting NASA requirements for instrument development and mission oversight while simultaneously fitting in with commercial timelines and business practices.
The commercial timeline is very quick – as little as three years from decision to launch. NASA plans to award a Task Order under the Air Force’s HoPS contract (the Air Force is supporting NASA pursuant to an Acquisition Assistance agreement). NASA requires competitive, affordable proposals meeting our technical requirements.
Government procurement rules prohibit NASA and the USAF from sole-sourcing and hand-picking a commercial Hosted Payload service. In the past, NASA was accustomed to being completely in charge – developing and picking launch and bus services from the very start rather than “hitching a ride” as a Hosted Payload on a bus and launch vehicle developed for commercial purposes, generally.
Today, concerning TEMPO in a Hosted Payload scenario, I can’t say exactly when the launch will occur – or even on which spacecraft bus. What we have been able to do with industry has greatly mitigated these risks and concerns – working with the SMC HoPs vendor pool we have been able to verify that multiple providers can meet the technical requirements and programmatic constraints.
We are doing something new; TEMPO is the first use of the HoPs contract and we are working diligently with SMC and industry to make it a success.
GovSat Report: What do you think needs to happen to assuage concerns about Hosted Payloads? What can industry do to help overcome them? What role will Congress have to play?
David Beals: Knowledge, communication, and familiarity are the keys to addressing concerns.
We have been working closely with the HoPs GEO vendor pool to address technical and programmatic concerns for the past year, and this is one of the real success stories so far.
As an example, the TEMPO instrument was originally designed with its own dedicated radiator. As we worked with industry on the interface requirements a suggestion was made to do a trade study to see if the spacecraft’s radiators could handle the thermal loads. It’s turns out that all of the industry-identified potential spacecraft could handle the thermal loads, and the studies demonstrated it would be easier and preferable to use on-board thermal control rather than having a dedicated instrument radiator. This change was made to the instrument design. It made it better for both the instrument and the spacecraft.
Similarly, we have issued draft RFPs to industry and have received – and incorporated – that feedback. This helps NASA integrate with the commercial flow while still meeting our requirements. These are examples of how government and industry can work together so each has success.
Congress is supportive of the Hosted Payload concept and public/private partnerships. This continued support for innovative and creative solutions that save the government funds and meet our requirements is key for future success.
GovSat Report: Do you foresee Hosted Payload programs gaining additional traction in the coming years? If so, what will fuel any projected growth in adoption?
David Beals: I am very optimistic about the future of Hosted Payloads. I believe TEMPO will be great success, returning important science and demonstrating that Hosted Payloads are a cost-effective solution.
I can see Hosted Payloads as a cost-effective method for advancing the Technical Readiness Levels (TRL) of any number of mechanisms and technologies that need time in the space environment in order to show their operational readiness. As NASA and industry gain experience, what once was new and novel will become obvious as a way to use the strengths of both industry and NASA to their fullest advantage.
For additional information on hosted payloads, their benefits to the federal government and how they can provide economical access to space for government agencies and branches of the military, download the SES hosted payload white paper by clicking HERE. For information on GOLD – another NASA hosted payload program – click HERE.