NASA Explores Commercial SATCOM Capabilities with new Communications Services Program
Communications Services Program
As more commercial companies evolve services and infrastructure in near-Earth orbit, NASA has identified a new need to develop a commercially-led space communications capability for its missions. In response, the United States Government has requested that NASA “encourage and facilitate the growth of a U.S. commercial space sector that supports U.S. needs, is globally competitive, and advances U.S. leadership in the generation of new markets and innovation-driven entrepreneurship.”
NASA has long been a leader in space communications services, but the agency is now looking to U.S. industry to develop healthy commercially-provided satellite communications (SATCOM) capabilities, using radio frequency and optical systems, for near-Earth operations. The agency will continue to develop technologies and systems for deep space exploration, but for missions in low-Earth orbit, we believe using commercial SATCOM will help drive market innovation, improve efficiencies for NASA, and reduce costs for all providers and users.
“The commercial satellite communications industry is very robust and more service providers are entering the market every year,” said Eli Naffah, Communications Services Program (CSP) Formulation Manager at NASA Glenn Research Center. “NASA plans to identify and leverage those capabilities to become one of many customers for SATCOM services from commercial providers.”
In the first step toward using these commercial communications systems, NASA is formulating the CSP, which aims to better understand the current capabilities and the feasibility of integrating SATCOM systems into future agency missions in low-Earth orbit and eventually beyond.
However, changing from agency assets to commercial SATCOM will be challenging, so CSP has outlined a three-phase strategy to ease the transition of traffic and responsibilities from government-owned and operated assets to commercial entities.
The first phase is positioned much like a “study,” where our CSP team will develop a strategy to identify and analyze NASA’s current usage and future communication needs. During this time, we will also evaluate existing industry capabilities as we look to align all parties – those internal to NASA, within industry and among other government agencies – on possible future states. The CSP team will use the information already gathered under the Space Relay Partnership and Services Study solicitation to inform its work during this phase.
Once the initial assessment is complete, NASA will begin to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships and award multiple contracts to develop and demonstrate system capabilities that meet various mission needs. This will lead to increased public-private collaboration, which will then bring us to the final phase, where NASA will acquire and transition to reliable and cost-effective SATCOM services from multiple industry partners.
“We first need to identify future NASA mission requirements, which will, in turn, help drive the development of commercial capabilities and interoperability standards to the point where NASA no longer has to create and manage systems to meet our communications needs,” said Tom Kacpura, CSP Deputy Formulation Manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “Ultimately, our goal is to achieve all of our mission objectives, while also supporting a strong, diverse commercial communications market and reducing overall costs.”
The CSP is being formulated under and led by Mr. Badri Younes, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Communications and Navigation in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
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