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National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Small Business Innovation Research 1997 Program Solicitation

TOPIC 26 Communications

26.01 RF and Optical Communications for Deep Space Missions
26.02 RF and Optical Communications for Earth Satellites

All NASA missions rely on telecommunications for their successful completion. NASA develops innovative communications technologies for its own use and collaborates with US industry in the development of commercial technologies that have the potential to satisfy NASA system needs. To fulfill these goals, NASA conducts a program of research and technology at the device, subsystem and system level in such areas as microwave, millimeter wave, and optical communications; digital processing, modulation, and coding; communications architectures, networks, and system protocols.

26.01 RF and Optical Communications for Deep Space Missions
Lead Center: JPL

NASA's goals for future interplanetary missions require advances in higher-capability, smaller, and more power-efficient spaceborne telecommunications. Due to the enormous distances from Earth, design of these systems imposes unique challenges for transmitter sources with higher effective isotropic radiated power (EIRP) and higher receiver sensitivities, while maintaining low power consumption and low system mass. Technology options being considered include improved radio frequency and optical communication systems. Additionally, sensors being planned for future Earth-orbital missions will produce significantly higher data rates as well. For these missions, the limitations on communications come not from physics, but from limits on RF spectrum allocation. To circumvent this limitation, NASA is developing high-data-rate laser communications. Data rates up to several Gbps can be transmitted from Earth-orbit-to-ground, or via space-space relay. Areas in RF communications where innovations are sought include:

  • Modulation and coding techniques and network designs for deep-space communications that reduce cost, spacecraft power and mass, bandwidth, and operations requirements.
  • Ultra-small, low-cost, low-power, deep-space transponders and components including low-voltage and high-efficiency integrated circuits such as microwave monolithic integrated circuits (MMICs) and MMIC filters. Signal-processing circuits for receivers that provide carrier tracking, command, and ranging capabilities. Low-voltage, multi-function MMIC designs with integrated filters to provide low-noise down-conversion, automatic gain-control, up-conversion, and transceiver functions at Ka-band. MMIC modulators to provide large linear phase modulation (above 2.5 radians), high-data-rate BPSK/QPSK modulation at Ka-band. Miniature, ultra-stable oscillators for deep space communications and GPS applications. Miniature, low-loss X-band and Ka-band switches and diplexers.
  • Miniature, high-efficiency power amplifiers and RF-power devices operating in the X-band (8.4 Gigahertz) or Ka-band (32 Gigahertz), transmitters with output power levels ranging from 3 watts to 20 watts, and both innovative solid-state as well as thermionic devices that can survive the space environment with mean-time-to-failure of ten years or more.
  • Low-mass, high-gain, high-efficiency antennas typically with diameters less than 2 meters, integral with spacecraft surfaces, or that can be reliably stowed in low volumes.
  • Lightweight, high-efficiency TWTAs and vacuum electronic transmitters for deep space mission communications at X and Ka band in the power advanced cathodes and advanced vacuum electronic transmitters area.

For optical communication systems, innovative concepts are solicited for space-based systems in the following areas:

  • Ultra-lightweight, baffled, thermally-stable diffraction-limited telescopes. Efficient, space-qualifiable, lightweight diode and diode-pumped lasers and/or laser driver-modulators.
  • High-speed (equal to or greater than 0.1 Gigahertz) modulators for diode-lasers with more than 100 milliwatts of output power.
  • Acquisition, tracking, and pointing techniques that reduce mass, power and complexity.
  • Focal-plane-array detectors with built-in (on-chip) processing and/or focal plane arrays combining redundant CCD and QAPD sensors.
  • Lightweight, low-power, two-axis, mechanical and non-mechanical beam steering devices.
  • Optical phase-control devices.
  • Narrow-band (0.1 Angstrom), high-throughput (more than 0.60) optical filters.
  • Lightweight stray-light control concepts.
  • Power-efficient modulation and coding systems.
  • High-efficiency, high-speed optical detectors and detector amplifiers.

Also of interest are technologies to enable low-cost ground-reception systems including:

  • Low-cost optical telescopes (photon-buckets) from 3 to 10 meters in diameter.
  • Low-cost 1-m diameter optical telescopes that can accurately track Earth-orbiting satellites.
  • Ultra-narrow-band (0.01 to 0.5 Angstrom) optical filters.
  • Adaptive-optics systems to mitigate the effects of atmospheric turbulence. Innovative concepts for low-cost telescope mounts and enclosures.

Photonics technologies that permit new and more efficient ways to implement RF-communications and phased-array systems including components and techniques applicable to:

  • Optical-RF signal distribution systems.
  • Optically controlled transmit-receive modules. Optical beam-forming networks.
  • Optical samplers, modulators, detectors, and mixers. Rf-locked semi-conductor lasers.

[back to top]

26.02 RF and Optical Communications for Earth Satellites
Lead Center: LeRC

Innovations are sought for application to commercial satellite communications and NASA missions. Advanced techniques and products (radio frequency and optical) are invited that support commercial low, medium, and geostationary Earth orbiting (LEO, MEO, GEO) satellite networks for integrated, fixed, transportable, and mobile broadcast and/or wireless communications and information services. Innovations are expected to offer significant improvements in performance, weight, power efficiency, reliability and/or cost. Products are sought in the following areas:

  • Latency-tolerant data communication protocols and enhanced Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and related network technologies for interoperable space-terrestrial networks. Data protocols for LEO/MEO networks.
  • Low cost, Ka-band flat plate array antennas, 2 watt Ka-band, MMIC power amplifiers and low noise block down-converters for USAT applications. Low cost, precision tracking Ka-band earth terminals for high data rate (OC-3 to OC-12) direct-to-Earth downlinks from LEO/MEO spacecraft.
  • Software/hardware technologies to enhance Internet applications, videoconference, multimedia and video distribution techniques and applications over satellite networks. Innovative approaches to software simulation tools for rain fade compensation and for evaluating the effects of mutual interference between space and terrestrial wireless systems.
  • Wide scan angle (+/- 60 deg), low profile, xmt/rcv Ka-band antennas, Ku/Ka band transceivers and closed-loop acquisition/tracking algorithms for aeronautical communication satellites.
  • Vacuum and solid-state electronics amplifiers with improved performance at frequencies up to 100 GHz including ancillary technologies such as electron emission, computer-aided design and electronic materials and device characterization that are required in the development of microwave power modules, vacuum microelectronic devices, traveling wave tubes and MMICs
  • RF components and sub-systems based on Si and SiGe or novel materials such as ferroelectrics, diamond films and high-temperature superconducting films or utilizing microfabrication techniques
  • Bandwidth and power efficient single or multi-channel digital modems; aggregate rates from 100 Mbps to 1.2 Gbps; single chip or chip set integration; and novel robust coding schemes for high performance data links and next generation data on demand systems.
  • Innovative application of critical on-board satellite signal processing, switching and routing functions for 100 fold increase in capacity with no increase in mass and power.
  • Novel system designs and advanced optical technologies are needed to enable efficient ultra high data rate communications on space-to-space, space-to-ground, and/or ground-to-space links for GEO or non-GEO satellite networks. Areas of interest include lightweight, low cost and thermally stable telescopes; efficient, high power (>1 W) semiconductor diode lasers and arrays; high bandwidth modulators and detectors; techniques to mitigate the effects of atmospheric attenuation/turbulence and methods to reduce mass, power and complexity of the acquisition/tracking/pointing process.
  • Software/hardware technologies to enhance configuration management, performance monitoring, fault isolation, and security of data communications networks involving satellite links integrated with terrestrial networks.
  • Low cost, hand-held transceivers/display units capable of receiving only, transmitting only, and both receiving and transmitting satellite-relayed disaster-related warning or mitigation information broadcast over special frequencies allocated for emergency and weather use.
  • Very low weight, high data rate, mobile communications and data compression technologies suitable for use in conjunction with remote sensing instruments placed in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and supporting real-time transmission of video and multi-spectral images back to science investigators.


See comments by Dan Goldin

Aerospace America - Laser satcom offers links in space

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