A Look at Payloads Launched in 2016

Built by Lockheed Martin, the WorldView-4 satellite will expand DigitalGlobe’s industry-leading constellation of high-accuracy, high-resolution satellites, and double the availability of 30 cm resolution imagery for commercial and government customers around the globe. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

Excerpt from

The Annual Compendium of
Commercial Space Transportation: 2017

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)

January 2017

State of the Payload Industry

Space industry companies and organizations worldwide, sometimes the same as launch vehicle manufacturers but also those specifically dedicated to spacecraft manufacturing, produce these spacecraft. Commercially launched payloads are typically used for the following mission types:

  • Commercial communications satellites;
  • Commercial remote sensing or Earth observation satellites;
  • Commercial crew and cargo missions, including on-orbit vehicles and platforms;
  • Technology test and demonstration missions, usually new types of payloads undergoing test or used to test new launch vehicle technology; and
  • Other commercially launched payloads, usually satellites launched for various purposes by governments of countries not having indigenous orbital launch capability.

All orbital payloads are divided into mass classes, described in the table below.

Global Payload Industry

Countries and jurisdictions worldwide that possess functional and operating indigenous payload manufacturing sectors are China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Countries that have developed and built their own spacecraft include Argentina, Iran, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, and Ukraine. Organizations from nearly 60 countries have developed and built at least one orbital payload since 1957, usually a satellite. The payload building capability of more than half of these countries is limited to CubeSats, built from pre-fabricated kits by universities and government and non-profit organizations.

The table above presents civil, military, and commercial orbital payloads, by country of manufacturer, in 2016. In 2016, 55 CubeSats, most of them commercial, were launched as cargo for subsequent deployment from the ISS. Twenty Planet CubeSats were launched aboard a Cygnus for the OA-6 mission in March and 12 were launched directly into orbit by an Indian PSLV vehicle in June. Spire Global began its constellation deployment in 2016, with 13 CubeSats launched aboard Atlas V and Antares vehicles supporting cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

U.S. Payload Industry

The backbone of the United States payload industry consists of the established aerospace companies and major U.S. government space and defense prime contractors developing and manufacturing commercially launched spacecraft:

  • Ball Aerospace
  • The Boeing Company
  • Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Orbital ATK
  • Space Systems Loral (SSL)

These companies build spacecraft, mostly of large- and medium- but also small-mass class, for civil, military and commercial uses. Three of the five companies, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK, are also launch vehicle manufacturers. Ball Aerospace and SSL are strictly payload (spacecraft) companies. Meanwhile, companies such as Harris, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon develop and produce specialized payload components, including antennas, electronics, and other subsystems. Other U.S. companies, many established in the last 15 years, manufacture spacecraft of all mass classes, for civil, military, and commercial use.

Commercial On-Orbit Vehicles and Platforms

NASA started the commercial crew and cargo program to help commercial companies develop new capabilities for transporting crew and cargo to the ISS. These services are intended to replace some of the ISS resupply missions once performed by the Space Shuttle.

The first of these vehicles, SpaceX’s Dragon, became operational in 2012, restoring NASA’s ability to deliver and retrieve cargo in LEO. Orbital ATK followed with its Cygnus spacecraft. In 2016, NASA awarded a second cargo resupply services contract to SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (which is still developing a cargo system) to
cover the period 2019 through 2024.

Crewed vehicles made many advances in 2016 but are not expected to become operational before 2018.

On-orbit vehicle and platform development by commercial companies conducted in 2016 included the missions:

  •  Two cargo missions were conducted as part of NASA’s ISS Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contracts with SpaceX. A non-launch pad accident of a Falcon 9 vehicle in September grounded SpaceX missions until January 2017.
  • The Orbital ATK OA-5 and OA-6 missions were conducted using Antares (OA-5) and Atlas V (OA-6) launch vehicles. Orbital ATK has completed upgrades to its Antares vehicle following a 2014 launch failure, including new RD-181 engines provided by NPO Energomash.

Boeing continues to develop the CST-100 Starliner, and SpaceX is developing the Crewed Dragon for the NASA Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program. Blue Origin continues work on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, and announced in 2016 more detailed plans to develop its New Glenn launch vehicle.

The table above lists on-orbit vehicles and platforms currently offered or being developed in the U.S.