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NASA Seeks High-Bandwidth Deep Space Communications

The agency's Space Technology Program issued new solicitations this week that seek a range of innovations, including a system for removing man-made debris in earth's orbit.

NASA, Microsoft Reveal Mars In Pictures
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Slideshow: NASA, Microsoft Reveal Mars In Pictures

NASA is seeking innovations in high-bandwidth space communications, the removal of orbital debris, and improved spacecraft navigation in new solicitations from its Space Technology Program.

The agency's Office of the Chief Technologist released the proposals as part of NASA's use of funds from the Authorization Act of 2010. NASA also created new program offices to manage human spaceflight activities it is planning as part of its fiscal 2012 budget request.

While the Space Shuttle program ended this year, NASA's space program is moving ahead and aims to send people deeper into space with the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket, and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the agency's next-generation human exploration spacecraft.

In a Technology Demonstration Mission Proposal (TDMP), NASA is asking firms to demonstrate high-bandwidth deep space communication, navigation, and timing technology for spacecraft that might better enable human spaceflight beyond earth's orbit, the agency said in one of its new solicitations (pdf).

In addition to seeking technologies that enhance each function independently, NASA also is open to ideas for "systems that integrate technology developed across communication and navigation," it said. Other technology NASA is seeking through the TDMP includes systems that remove or mitigate orbital debris that's collected in space due to 50-plus years of space activity.

During that time, more than 500,000 man-made objects have accumulated in the orbit of the Earth, which "pose long-term dangers to current and future space missions," according to the solicitation.

NASA also wants organizations to demonstrate advanced in-space propulsion systems; and technology that allows spacecraft to autonomously rendezvous, dock, and fly in close proximity or in formation, it said.

NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program is another effort that is looking to enhance the agency's Space Technology Program through "visionary aerospace concepts" for new space systems, according to another solicitation (pdf) released by the agency.

NIAC is seeking proposals from academic institutions and nonprofit research laboratories for two areas of research. One is what it calls "Early Stage Innovation," which focuses on developing technology to enhance current or new missions. The other opportunity calls for proposals for "Game Changing Developments," which should focus on capabilities that "radically change how missions are carried out, or even conceived," according to NASA.

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