Message from the Chief Engineer

Case Study: Space-to-Space Communications System

In-House Technology Development

Astronaut conducts spacewalk above International Space Station

The SSCS is a two-way data communication system designed to provide voice and telemetry among the Space Shuttle orbiter, the International Space Station, and the Extra Vehicular Activity Mobility Unit (EMU). An EMU is a space suit worn by an astronaut during a space walk. Image Credit: NASA

Technology development is critical to NASA's ability to push the frontiers of space exploration. In the months ahead, the agency will begin making investments in research and development that present truly exciting opportunities for the technical community. This represents a real chance for breakthroughs that can make the next generation of space flight systems more powerful, safe, sustainable, and cost-efficient.

The Space-to-Space Communications System (SSCS) was a complex technology development project that came about because of the need for a radio system that would connect the Shuttle with the International Space Station (ISS). It was designed to provide simultaneous communication for up to five users, including crewmembers during an extravehicular activity (EVA). In short, it was a first-of-its-kind system, like so many NASA projects.

Technology development projects carry significant risks. They require rigorous systems engineering and thorough test programs. Repeated failures along the way are part of the process. If we’re lucky, we get a chance to fix them. The SSCS case reminds us that we have to give our people the resources they need — including the talent — at the beginning of the project, not the end. SSCS got the help it needed and ended up highly successful over the long term, but not before it weathered significant technical and managerial challenges. As we begin a new era of technology development at NASA, it's a lesson worth remembering.

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