The Air Force expects to award an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for commercially hosted satellite payloads by the end of the calendar year, said Gen. William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command. “That will basically provide a path to on-ramp capabilities,” he told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17. “It will lay the groundwork and make these bridges to hosted payloads easier to come by,” he noted. The Air Force has been discussing a move toward more commercially hosted payloads for years in an effort to get capabilities on orbit more quickly and at significantly reduced cost. The service’s experimental Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload, or CHIRP, reached orbit aboard an SES-2 communications satellite in September 2011. It was the Air Force’s first payload hosted on a commercial satellite.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.