Wideband User Terminal Project
As commercial companies evolve space communications services and infrastructure in near-Earth orbit, NASA has identified a need to develop commercially led satellite communications for future missions. For almost 40 years, NASA has relied on its Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) system to provide near-constant communication links between the ground and satellites in low-Earth orbit, but the infrastructure was not originally designed for interoperability between government and commercial networks.
NASA is currently developing a Wideband User Terminal, designed specifically to roam across multiple networks in space for the very first time. The Wideband User Terminal is a transceiver that operates over government and commercial Ka-band spectrum allocations 17.7 GHz – 31 GHz, covering spectrum allocated to commercial services, military operations, and civilian space operations. This roaming function will give spacecraft the ability to seamlessly connect to various both government and commercial communications networks and allow for multi-access points of services, lower latency, and lower costs for missions. Additionally, the Wideband terminal could enable communication services providers to efficiently share, reuse, and de-conflict spectrum usage of future radio frequency communications, navigation, and radar systems.
Future Testing and Applications
A combination of early ground-based and space-based experiments are currently being planned and conducted to demonstrate proof-of-concept wideband terminal operations. The development will focus on integration of commercially available product lines and development of technology gap where products do not exist toward realization of a flight product. Additionally, establish a path toward standardization or porting of multiple commercial waveforms to a common SDR. Both ground-based and space-based (flight) demonstrations will encompass Ka-band data communication with TDRS and commercial relay providers demonstrating interoperability.
The Wideband terminal basic functions have been successfully demonstrated with multiple space networks from both commercial and government satellite communications services. Further ground demonstration activities and enhancement to the Wideband terminal prototype are being conducted. The NASA SCaN Program is targeting Wideband flight demonstration in mid 2020s. Wideband RF terminal technology infusion for use by future missions could happen at the earliest in 2025.