Hosted payload program teaches lessons for future launches

Air Force and industry officials discussed lessons learned from the Air Force’s Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload (CHIRP) flight demonstration program and how they could be applied to future payloads on March 12 at the Satellite 2012 conference.

CHIRP is a wide field of view infrared sensor installed on a commercial communications satellite; the payload and its host satellite launched into orbit in 2011 aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. CHIRP is an experiment designed to support next-generation infrared sensor development and is a key part of the Third Generation Infrared Surveillance system, Air Force officials said.

The payload’s infrared sensors were originally built for use on the ground. The components had to be modified and flight rated, said Air Force Capt. Eric Rabarijaona, CHIRP's program manager at the Space and Missile Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

In the future, Rabarijaona said there will be a need to make sure that payloads are mature technologically before a launch to allow devices to be calibrated more easily.

Information assurance is another key part of the program. “You can singlehandedly kill a program if it isn’t done correctly,” said Rabarijaona. For CHIRP, it was necessary to know who the main players were for providing information assurance approval. For example, the program had to make sure that the Defense Security Services, the CHIRP Mission Analysis Center, the Mission Fusion Center and the Missile Defense Agency were working together and approving the program's security aspects to move forward, he said.

Commercial lessons learned from CHIRP involve coordinating maneuver schedules for spacecraft and a need to avoid outages on hosted sensor payloads, said Timothy Deaver, vice president of market development at SES Government Solutions.

Another learning experience involved understanding how the military sensors operated on a commercially designed platform, Deaver said. The sensor components were assembled in a commercial-grade clean room and the result of this work provided the program personnel with vital knowledge about how to operate optical payloads on commercial platforms, he said.

CHIRP was a fixed-price program that featured cutting-edge infrared technology, said John Fleming, CHIRP’s program manager and CHIRP Mission Analysis Center mission director with SAIC. He said the value of the effort was not to turn a profit but to enable new technologies in the space market.

There are ongoing discussions for a follow-on program to CHIRP, said Rabarijaona. He added that any follow-on efforts will depend on the results of a performance study of the spacecraft’s infrared sensor. “CHIRP has set a precedent for the Air Force as the first commercially hosted Air Force payload,” he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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