NASA – Space Communications


Glenn is developing architecture technologies, communication system technologies, and subsystem and component technologies to enable NASA’s future missions in science and human exploration. We develop space communication architectures via commercial ventures and international forums, and we are a major supporter of extending the Internet into space.

Technologies are being developed to support intelligent, autonomous communications architectures that enable anytime, anywhere operations and provide end-to-end information delivery from space directly to users. Through coordinated studies with other NASA centers, government agencies, industry, and academia, our scientists and engineers are designing feasible communication network architectures that enable the storage, transmission, and dynamic routing of large amounts of data at high rates among space assets and between space and ground assets.

ACTS deploymentImage right: Deployment of the Advanced Communication Technology Satellite (ACTS) from the Space Shuttle Discovery during mission STS-51. Credit: NASA

We have developed automatic fade compensation, bandwidth on demand, and full-mesh (point-to-point) time-division multiple-access networking. Glenn demonstrated satellite-Earth interoperability making ACTS the first satellite on the Internet and tested and analyzed inflatable space structures. We analyzed the radome structure for Raytheon and were consulted regarding communications for inspecting the space shuttles via extravehicular activities.

Digital techniques that Glenn has demonstrated include onboard digital processing; software-defined-radio, reconfigurable transceivers; and very high-speed modems. We led the nation in developing solid-state microwave devices, including monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs), wide-band-gap semiconductor and silicon germanium power amplifiers, and microelectromechanical-systems(MEMS-) based radiofrequency phase shifters.

In communications component technologies, Glenn is the international leader in space-qualified, high-power, high-efficiency amplifiers for enabling high-data-rate Ka-band communication. Glenn also leads in hopping spot-beam antenna technology, which allows several users to transmit and receive at the same frequency on a time-shared basis. We are developing new concepts for lightweight, cost-effective antennas, such as large deployable antennas, ferroelectric steerable phased arrays, antennas integrated with solar cells for power, MEMS-based reconfigurable antennas, space-fed lens antennas, and cryogenic receivers for the Deep Space Network.

Glenn led the development of the space communications architecture for the human exploration of the moon, providing a foundation for the many communication architectures being defined for the lunar exploration vision.

More Information:
+ Space Communications Program
+ Advanced Communications Technology Satellite →
+ Communications Technology Division →