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NASA Seeks Partners for Near-Earth Communications

As NASA prepares to return astronauts to the Moon and travel deeper into the solar system, it seeks to enhance near-Earth operations through partnerships with commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) providers. Using commercially-provided SATCOM will reduce cost, increase efficiencies, and open new market opportunities for American companies, while allowing the agency to focus on deep space exploration and science missions.

The agency has released an Announcement for Proposals to establish one or more partnerships between NASA and SATCOM companies to develop and demonstrate the feasibility of providing end-to-end operational capabilities for near-Earth users. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. EST, Aug. 20, 2021.

This is an illustration of a type of near-Earth satellite that could be included in NASA’s Commercial Services Project.
An illustration of the types of satellite near-Earth operations that could be included in NASA’s Commercial Services Project.

“As we work on new communications technologies for deep space, we want to divest from agency systems to leverage commercial capabilities to improve efficiencies and reduce costs for our near-Earth operations,” said Eli Naffah, Communications Services Project Formulation Manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “By becoming one of many customers, we believe this new approach will help drive new markets for American providers.”

This announcement does not specify requirements or concepts and encourages innovation, adaptation, and collaboration. NASA welcomes unique submissions, as each participant can determine the system requirements for its proposed concept to best accomplish agency objectives, while also serving its target customer market and future opportunities.

NASA seeks to complete the demonstrations by 2025, proving commercial providers can deliver robust, reliable, and cost-effective communication services for operations in near-Earth that work in any spectrum, orbit, and data path. After demonstrations are complete, NASA plans to potentially award long-term contracts to acquire and transition operations to near-Earth SATCOM services from multiple commercial partners by 2030, while phasing out NASA-owned and operated systems.

While aimed at meeting the mission needs of NASA, this effort will catalyze commercial space communications technology development, spur growth of a U.S. commercial SATCOM market, and maximize interoperability to support the needs of many future spacecraft and missions operating near Earth.

The Communications Services Project is managed under the direction of the Space Communications and Navigation Program, located at NASA Headquarters.

Top Image: An artist rendering of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R), which is a next-generation geostationary weather satellite that launched in 2016 operating on NASA’s near-Earth network. 

Jimi Russell
NASA’s Glenn Research Center