NASA's Space Network Update Enters Next Phase

Agency plans to install next-generation architecture in satellite ground stations to replace outdated systems.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

March 30, 2012

2 Min Read

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space

NASA's Next Mission: Deep Space (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

NASA has started a new phase in its effort to modernize the terrestrial segment of a decades-old space communications network. The update should simplify future expansion and increase the rate of data transferred from ground terminals into space.

The Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment (SNGSS) effort has passed a key review that allows NASA to move forward with a new phase of its design and planning, according to the agency.

SNGSS and Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) comprise NASA’s Space Network, which provides global space-to-ground telecommunications for NASA’s low-earth orbit and near-earth spaceflight missions.

The SNGSS project will provide a next-generation space communications ground terminal to sustain the network, which has been in place since the 1980s and is comprised of legacy hardware and software that’s becoming difficult and expensive to maintain, according to NASA. These systems also pose a risk to network reliability, which is crucial to NASA’s future space flight plans. The last time the agency refurbished its space network was in the mid-1990s.

[ NASA has released an online atlas with images of more than half a trillion objects throughout the universe. Read about it at NASA Releases Atlas Of Entire Sky. ]

The successful completion of the review--officially called Key Decision Point B--allows the current modernization project to enter Phase B, the Mission Definition Phase. During this phase, NASA and project contractor General Dynamics C4S will finalize designs and begin system implementation, said David Jacintho, SGSS Deputy Project Manager for Resources at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

"In this next phase, we will begin to develop the system moving forward through critical design," Jacintho said in a press statement. "Once operational, the system will provide state-of-the-practice technologies and services to users of NASA's national resource for decades to come."

The SNGSS project will install a new, more scalable architecture in each ground terminal that connects to the TDRS. The update will simplify future technology refreshes and expansions to the network as well as increase the rate of data transfer for communications that use it. It will also cut overall maintenance costs, according to NASA.

The new architecture will be installed in three existing Space Network ground terminals at NASA’s White Sands Complex in New Mexico and in Guam. NASA expects the project to be complete and the new system to be fully operational by the end of 2016.

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