NASA Spectrum Planning for Commercial SATCOM
Meeting Summary from SATELLITE 2022 in Washington D.C.
By Lisa Dreher
On March 23, MSUA held a discussion session with interested Association members and representatives from NASA’s Communications Service Project (CSP) in conjunction with the Satellite 2022 conference in Washington, D.C. The purpose was to discuss upcoming spectrum planning requirements for the use of commercial SATCOM that NASA is looking to adopt as it transitions from its legacy TDRSS system.
NASA representatives who attended include:
Eli Naffah, Formulation Manager for NASA’s Communication Services Project, NASA’s Glenn Research Center
Glenn Feldhake, International Spectrum Program Manager, NASA’s Glenn Research Center
RJ Balanga, Acting Director, Spectrum Policy and Planning, NASA Space Communications and Navigation Division (SCaN)
The group was joined by Wayne Whyte, Senior Spectrum Advisor at Teltrium Solutions.
CSP’s role is to pioneer the future of NASA’s near-Earth space communications
By tapping into extensive industry innovation, CSP is evaluating commercial SATCOM networks that could reliably support future NASA mission requirements. That will open new opportunities for commercial SATCOM providers in the next few years. The NASA representatives came to discuss how the agency envisions effective use of spectrum for commercially-provided SATCOM services, and how industry and NASA can best work together to accommodate new and emerging SATCOM requirements for spacecraft. They expressed particular interest in garnering active industry support for a future agenda item that the US would introduce at the 2023 World Radio Communication Conference (WRC-23) seeking regulatory recognition for space relay through mobile-satellite service systems.
Here are a few key take-aways from the discussion:
There was good turnout from the MSUA membership, with representation from several different companies. Those in attendance agreed that it was useful to have an industry discussion on this topic. The group also thought that we should meet again to continue the dialogue.
Some attendees posed questions about technical aspects of NASA’s vision for operations. They asked for details about the WRC-23 agenda item that is seeking regulatory recognition for satellite-to-satellite operations in certain FSS frequency bands. They also asked about the envisioned future agenda item for WRC-27 to seek similar regulatory recognition for satellite-to-satellite operations in certain MSS frequency bands. There were questions around the agency’s expectations regarding hand-offs within satellite spot beams as spacecraft fly through the coverage area. For instance, the user spacecraft would need to change frequencies as it transitions from one spot beam to the next if continuous coverage were required. The NASA team pointed out that these details are to be worked through, and they are looking for industry engagement and suggestions to address technical issues. The team also indicated that it may be possible through the CSP demonstrations to investigate such hand-off issues.
Another question was whether NASA intends for flight operations to be supported only through either fixed satellite service providers or in the future by mobile satellite systems. Mr. Naffah noted that NASA is agnostic to the method, technology, spectrum and orbital aspects of vendors’ solutions. The right solutions come down to what service(s) can meet specific mission requirements as have been suggested in target use cases explained in the CSP Announcement for Proposals (AFP) issued in May 2021. NASA welcomes diverse solutions to allow options and flexibility in its meeting mission requirements.
There were also several questions pertaining to business opportunities and operational concerns. Attendees were interested in understanding what NASA operations would look like across the different users, different missions, different constellations and different orbits. The NASA team noted that rather than asking for particular requirements like solving interoperability or resolving spectrum challenges, they are asking industry to demonstrate how they could serve NASA missions. For instance, there was a question about the feasibility of an engagement model on a minutes-per-year basis. NASA noted that while it is certainly a potential business model that could be pursued, they don’t want to dictate one approach over another. Rather they will look to service providers in terms of how they want to offer a service and what kind of model would be good to pursue.
Another question posed was regarding whether NASA is seeking a one-stop-shop model for service providers looking to support mission requirements. NASA explained that a specific mission’s requirements will dictate what service provider capabilities will be needed for that particular mission. However, NASA is not looking for every service provider to be able to meet every mission requirement, but rather welcomes a flexible fleet of providers who want to offer services. Mr. Naffah noted that in coming weeks and months, NASA will enter into Funded Space Act Agreements for service provider capability development and demonstrations that should provide better insights into the combination of future commercial service provider solutions that could become available. While those agreements will likely be with a smaller number of companies compared to the many companies in our industry, NASA remains very flexible and encourages discussions and opportunities with additional vendors as well. The CSP AFP offers insights into NASA’s goals and use cases, which may fit well with developments that our member companies have planned or are already underway.
Many of us have interests with other government agencies, international space agencies and even commercial spaceflight companies. There's a bigger market out there beyond NASA and it’s certainly an exciting, high-growth time for us!
We would like to thank Inmarsat for volunteering their onsite meeting space for us to hold this important discussion. Please direct any current questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and stay tuned for more details as NASA’s CSP progresses.