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Last month, NASA selected six satellite communications providers in the United States (SATCOM) to develop and demonstrate near-Earth space services that could support the agency’s future missions.

NASA aims to use SATCOM’s commercial networks and decommission its own satellite fleet to focus more time and resources on deep space exploration and scientific missions.

Under it Communication services project (CSP), NASA plans to raise $ 278.5 million over a five-year development and demonstration period, while the six contractors will provide more than $ 1.5 billion in investment.

“We follow the agency’s proven approach, developed through commercial freight and commercial crew services. Using funded Space Act agreements, we are able to stimulate the industry to demonstrate end-to-end capabilities leading to operational service, ”said Eli Nafa, CSP Project Manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

Private companies seek to reduce costs, increase flexibility and improve productivity for a wide range of missions. The goal is to develop solutions that could potentially meet the requirements of NASA’s future mission, while supporting the business model of each company, future customers and the growing domestic commercial SATCOM market.

IN six contracted companies are Inmarsat Government Inc., Kuiper Government Solutions, SES Government Solutions, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Telesat US Services and Viasat Incorporated.

Each company will complete technology development and space demonstrations by 2025 to prove that their solutions will provide stable, reliable and cost-effective operations, including the possibility of new high-speed, high-capacity two-way communications. NASA intends to seek a number of long-term contracts to acquire services for near-Earth operations by 2030, while eliminating systems owned and operated by NASA.

NASA’s First Generation TDRS (Source: Northrop Grumman Images)

“What we’re trying to do is achieve what the industry can and wants to do,” Nafa told the EE Times. He explained that the goal of the CPS is to replace the satellite tracking data (TDRS) that NASA currently has in geosynchronous orbit, which will be phased out over the next few years.

The NASA constellation began working in the 1980s with the Space Shuttle program. The International Space Station and other missions depend on these services today. NASA launched its last TDRS satellite in 2017 and has no plans to launch more.

“We are looking to demonstrate the feasibility of the services offered by the trade network and to develop a strategy for the acquisition and progress of these services, which will ultimately lead to a departure from the state systems owned and operated,” Nafa said. “We try to focus our people, talents and resources on science and research and on things that the trade sector cannot do.”

When NASA built the constellation TDRS, there were few commercial service providers that the space agency had as alternatives.

“We had to build the system then, but the industry has been far ahead of NASA and investment in geosynchronous Earth orbit over the past 20 years,” Nafa said. “You’re starting to see constellations in low Earth orbit and middle Earth orbit, so the industries are ready with the infrastructure that serves the ground market and SATCOM both. I think we could use this infrastructure for space users. That’s the point here. “

NASA has identified six use cases based on the relay and direct ground services it currently uses. Use cases include telemetry during launch services, low Earth Orbit (LEO) operations and the return of scientific data.

“When we look at what the industry is doing, a lot of innovation is happening,” Nafa said. “We hope to use this innovation and these newer technologies to really benefit NASA missions.”

NASA hopes to eventually become one of the many buyers of commercial services, which will help reduce the agency’s costs. Another area that can be improved is automation. It often takes weeks for NASA to plan the use of its assets. This is a laborious process, according to Nafa.

“The systems we’re looking at from the commercial side are more automated,” he said. “We hope to be able to have ubiquitous coverage where we have coverage on demand in certain cases.”

Business service providers can use more than Ka bandwidth, which should improve data transmission performance, he added.

In satellite communications Ka bandwidth allows communication with higher bandwidth. It is currently used for high-performance satellite Internet access from the Inmarsat I-5 system and in LEO from the SpaceX Starlink system. Planned future satellite projects with the help of Ka the group includes Amazon’s LEO Project Kuiper satellite constellation, the SES-17’s multi-orbit satellite SES satellite system in geosynchronous Earth orbit, and the constellation O3b mPOWER in medium-Earth orbit, which will be launched in 2022-2024.

Acquisition of the new services by NASA will be free and open competition for those who do the demonstrations, as well as for others who have services they would like to offer, according to Nafa.

“If you look at the share of costs, the share of costs of NASA is very low. We are investing about $ 278 million over the next four years, and private service providers will equate that to about $ 1.5 billion. “

By 2030, NASA hopes to provide commercial services to its space missions.


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