Can we attach payload to communication satellite and detach it in space after having gained a specific altitude? What is probability that it will fail?

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    $\begingroup$ secondary and "hitch-hiker" payloads are done regularly for orbital flights, but because communications satellites are so expensive and take so long to build (and are going to GTO or GEO) they usually don't have them. There have been some secondary scientific payloads that have remained attached permanently on communications satellite but I can't remember the one I'm thinking of right now. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 4, 2020 at 10:36

2 Answers 2


Large geostationary satellites often have a bit of space, power and bandwidth to carry secondary payloads.

For example, the recently launched Elektro-L 3 satellite carries secondary payloads:

The satellite also carries instruments to monitor space weather and a search-and-rescue communications payload, according to information published by Roscosmos.

But these typically stay attached.

At lower altitudes, it’s common for a launcher to carry multiple payloads, but they generally start and stay separate from each other.

The US Air Force has done quite a bit of work on secondary satellite buses that carry satellites for a while before dispersing them.

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    $\begingroup$ I would also add that although they can, the economic, political, and work load factors typically prevent communications satellites from hosting secondary payloads. Some LV providers, like SpaceX, are beginning to poke at that paradigm and are now starting to offer rideshare slots as long as payloads conform to standard interfaces spacex.com/smallsat. Russian, Indian, and even Japanese launches have traditionally been more open to secondary payloads, usually through brokerages like Spaceflight Services spaceflight.com . $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2020 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Private space agencies avoid that due to multiple risks or any other factors as well.What is ideal payload that communication satellites can carry? $\endgroup$ Jan 9, 2020 at 15:46

Another example of a piggyback payload is the Geostationary Lightning Mapper or GLM. I just ran across an image of the simulator (flown on an aircraft) as the banner for this page:

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From the overview page:

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) is a satellite-borne single channel, near-infrared optical transient detector that has been placed on the GOES-16 satellite in a geostationary orbit. This orbital position allows for GLM to measure a dedicated region that includes the United States with continous views capable of providing lightning detection at a rate never before obtained from space. GLM detects all forms of lightning during both day and night, continously, with a high spatial resolution and detection efficiency.

GOES-16 (formerly GOES-R) was launched in November 2016. GLM began operation in March 2017 after a dedicated satellite and instrument spin-up period. The use of a geospatial orbit provides increased severe storm warning lead time, earlier indication of impending lightning strikes to the ground, and total lightning detection with nearly uniform spatial coverage of approximately 10 km.


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