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NASA to commercialize Near-Earth communications services
by Danny Baird for GSFC News
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 27, 2020

Artist's concept of a Tracking and Data Relay (TDRS) satellite in orbit around the Earth. TDRS have long provided robust communications services to near-Earth NASA missions. By 2030, NASA hopes to transition near-Earth services from government-owned assets like TDRS to commercial communications infrastructure.

NASA plans to rely primarily on industry-provided communications services for missions close to Earth by 2030. Rather than using government-owned relay satellites and ground stations, NASA's Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program will work with private industry to furnish missions with comprehensive network services.

"We are excited by the opportunities this new win/win commercial paradigm in near-Earth orbit may provide NASA and industry," said Deputy Associate Administrator for SCaN Badri Younes. "If successful, NASA will be able to move out of routine operations to primarily focus on perfecting transformational space communications and navigation technologies such as optical and quantum, while helping foster a more robust and interoperable space communications marketplace."

NASA transmits approximately 30 terabytes per day from near-Earth space through two networks based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This accounts for about 98 percent of all NASA space data. The Space Network provides relay communications services for launch vehicles and low-Earth orbit spacecraft through a constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. The Near Earth Network provides direct-to-Earth communications through a global network of NASA and commercial ground stations.

By shifting to commercial communications services, NASA will free up personnel and resources to focus on technology development while bolstering the commercial space economy. This shift may also reduce the overall cost of communications services while enhancing network responsiveness and availability. When NASA becomes just one of many customers in a commercial marketplace, missions can benefit from competitive pricing from an abundance of service providers.

"I envision commercialization will provide an even more robust user experience," said SCaN Engineering Manager Greg Heckler. "Let's say there's breaking science, like a volcanic eruption or a supernova. Scientists will be able to react in real time by re-directing their satellites to cover these phenomena."

As a first step toward this new model, NASA has released several Requests for Information (RFI) that solicit potential commercial communications vendors. The first pair of RFIs seek commercial direct-to-Earth communications services and lunar communications and navigation relay services as part of the LunaNet architecture, which will support the Artemis missions and a sustained presence at the Moon. A future solicitation for near-Earth communications demonstrations will focus on Earth-relay capabilities similar to those currently provided by NASA's Space Network.

+ Additionally, SCaN is hosting a series of industry days to share their goals for the future of space communications services. The first event, "SCaN The Future," will be held on Oct. 29 at 1 p.m. EDT and will explain how NASA will transition from provider to customer. Future events include an industry day and virtual roadshows hosted by Goddard regarding commercial direct-to-Earth communications resources and another hosted by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland focused on space-based relay capabilities.

Video: NASA Space Communications and Navigation Program's Move to Commercial Communications Services

Related Links
NASA Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program
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NASA, Department of Energy expand on more than 50 years of collaboration
Washington DC (SPX) Oct 21, 2020
NASA's longstanding partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) has enabled notable space exploration, from revealing more about the Moon to propelling the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft into interstellar space. NASA and DOE are expanding on more than 50 years of collaboration with a new memorandum of understanding announced Tuesday by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. The agreement - discussed during the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board meeting Oct ... read more

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