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Space Communications Testbed Successfully Validated in Space as a Multi-frequency Global Navigation Satellite System Receiver
March 7, 2014

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NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed now is the world’s first flight-validated, in-space U.S. GPS-European Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver. This achievement and flight validation of GNSS signal reception in the space environment enhances GNSS interoperability while enabling more precise and robust orbital predictions, more diverse multi-frequency GNSS capabilities and improved applications such as on-board autonomous spacecraft operations and scientific measurements.

The SCaN Testbed is an advanced, integrated communications laboratory facility aboard the International Space Station that uses a new generation of software-defined radio (SDR) technology to allow researchers to develop, test and demonstrate advanced communications, networking and navigation technologies in space. This SDR technology is based on a new NASA standard – the space telecommunications radio standard (STRS) – that enables radio applications to be changed simply by altering the software. NASA’s SCaN Program has developed the STRS architecture standard for SDR use in space- and ground-based platforms. This architecture standard provides commonality among radio developers to provide enhanced capability and services while reducing mission and programmatic risk. The cost savings and efficiency of this new technology will improve NASA's data communications in the future. The SCaN Testbed also will help programs, technology developers and mission planners understand how SDRs will be used in future missions.

Ten months after the SCaN Testbed’s launch in July 2012, a new software upload reconfigured the platform to operate as a GPS receiver for the first time, demonstrating the ease with which a multi-purpose SDR can be re-programmed in space to enable new features. With the GPS software enabled, the SCaN Testbed acquired and tracked GPS civil signals at L1, L2, and L5 frequencies, becoming the first GPS receiver of any kind to track the L5 signal from space.

Recent efforts have now expanded the scope of the SCaN Testbed’s capabilities to include the European GNSS constellation, Galileo, in addition to GPS: a recent test successfully recorded simultaneous navigation signals from both the European Galileo and the U.S. GPS constellations. Data recorded by the SCaN Testbed on orbit was downloaded and successfully correlated to both Galileo and GPS satellite signals in post-processing, confirming signal reception from both constellations.

These achievements are the result of a joint effort from multiple NASA centers to leverage the SCaN Testbed’s L-band capabilities and enable the platform to perform in-space navigation and GNSS signal reception. The Testbed is now helping to pave the way for greater use of international GNSS signals, validate the new modernized GPS signals and support future public and private sector users around the world and beyond Earth. The ability to track signals from multiple GNSS receivers will enable NASA to improve both space operations and science missions that benefit society as a whole, including improved Earth observation for precise weather forecasting, sea level height measurements and climate change monitoring. It also will assist in improving our understanding of Earth’s crustal movements and allow advanced tsunami warnings.

As a reconfigurable laboratory, the SCaN Testbed provides broad participation to NASA, industry, academia and other government agencies to develop and execute experimentsfrom the orbiting platform. These experiments will contribute data to the STRS repository and will enable future hardware platforms to use common, reusable software modules to reduce development time and costs. NASA continues to solicit proposals to participate in the development, integration and execution in orbit of research and technology experiments and demonstrations using the Testbed. The first users outside NASA are preparing to validate experiments on the SCaN Testbed, with two announcements of opportunity being prepared for release. The SCaN Testbed Experiment Opportunity invites industry and other government agencies to enter into Space Act Agreements with NASA to use the space station's SCaN platform. The SCaN Testbed Cooperative Agreement Notice invites academia to develop proposals to use the orbiting laboratory's SCaN Testbed research capabilities.

NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland leads the SCaN Testbed multi-center team, which includes the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. General Dynamics of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., developed SDRs under cooperative agreements with NASA. The SCaN Program Office in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington manages, oversees and funds the Testbed.

For more information about the SCaN Testbed, including opportunities for academia, government agencies and industry to participate, please visit: http://go.nasa.gov/QLp37U

For more information about SCaN, please visit: http://www.nasa.gov/SCaN

SCaN Testbed onboard the International Space Station
SCaN Testbed onboard the International Space Station
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SCaN Testbed onboard the International Space Station
SCaN Testbed onboard the International Space Station
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Page Last Updated: October 23rd, 2014
Page Editor: Thuy Mai