NASA Explores Commercial SATCOM Capabilities with new Communications Services Project
Communications Services Project
The Communication Services Project (CSP) is pioneering the future of NASA’s near-Earth space communications, evaluating commercial SATCOM networks’ feasibility to reliably support future NASA missions.
Private sector innovation in near-Earth space is accelerating quickly and dramatically. Tapping those advances will ensure NASA missions have the reliable, secure and continual space communications on which their long-term operations depend. That is needed as the legacy NASA owned and operated Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system is decommissioned in coming years.
Adopting commercial SATCOM capabilities will empower missions to leverage private sector investment that far exceeds what government can do. Using commercial technology will provide NASA missions with cost-saving access to continual industry innovation, saving money that can be refocused on scientific work.
The CSP effort is also the first step towards endless new opportunities for SATCOM providers. While a majority of data has traditionally gone from space to Earth, now there will be more content and more requirements to communicate in both directions that demands new two-way, higher capacity capabilities.
CSP will help foster a new class of commercial SATCOM services to address that demand. These services and new service models can be used by other government agencies and even commercial space flight companies to support their own mission requirements. That will bolster industry while enabling support for NASA’s near-Earth space missions for the long term.
A Phased Approach
Changing from agency assets to commercial SATCOM services is a complex operation. CSP applies a calculated and methodical approach through a three phase strategy.
The first phase involved Formulation, during which the CSP team developed a strategy to identify and analyze NASA’s current satellite usage and future communication needs. Throughout this phase, the team also evaluated existing industry capabilities to help align all parties – NASA, industry and other government agencies – on future opportunities. The CSP team used information already gathered under the Space Relay Partnership and Services Study solicitation to help inform its Phase 1 work.
Phase 2 involves select companies that are developing and demonstrating capabilities to prove their SATCOM services can meet various NASA mission needs. These initial contracts are awarded under Funded Space Act Agreements. Establishing mutually-beneficial relationships will lead to increased public-private collaboration, and will help encourage new industry innovations derived from the unique capabilities developed to support mission requirements.
Phase 2 will also involve developing new models needed for NASA to acquire commercial services capable of meeting its future needs.
In Phase 3, the final Project phase, NASA will begin to acquire and transition to reliable and cost-effective SATCOM services provided by multiple industry partners.
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