Communications Services Program: Changing the SATCOM Industry

Eli Naffah is Chief of NASA’s Space Communications and Spectrum Management Office. In this interview, conducted onsite at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Eli discusses NASA’s new Communications Services Program (CSP).

NASA has long been a leader in space communications services, but the agency is now looking to U.S. industry to develop healthy commercially-provided satellite communications (SATCOM) capabilities, using radio frequency and optical systems, for near-Earth operations. The agency will continue to develop technologies and systems for deep space exploration, but for missions in low-Earth orbit, like those to the International Space Station, NASA believes using commercial SATCOM will help drive market innovation, improve efficiencies for NASA, and reduce costs for all providers and users.

In the first step toward using these next-gen communications systems, NASA has established the Communications Services Program (CSP), which aims to better understand the current capabilities and the feasibility of integrating SATCOM systems into future agency missions in low-Earth orbit and eventually beyond.

The first phase is positioned much like a “study,” where the CSP team will develop a strategy to identify and analyze NASA’s current usage and future communication needs. During this time, the team will also evaluate existing industry capabilities as we look to align all parties – those internal to NASA, within industry and among other government agencies – on possible future states. The CSP team will use the information already gathered under the Space Relay Partnership and Services Study solicitation to inform its work during this phase.

Once the initial assessment is complete, NASA will begin to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships and award multiple contracts to develop and demonstrate system capabilities that meet various mission needs. This will lead to increased public-private collaboration, which will then bring us to the final phase, where NASA will acquire and transition to reliable and cost-effective SATCOM services from multiple industry partners.

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