New Delhi: Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and four other American satellite firms have bagged combined NASA contracts worth $278.5 million for space communications services. On April 20, NASA selected the six American satellite communications (SATCOM) providers to begin developing and demonstrating near-Earth space communication services as the United States space agency plans to decommission its near-Earth satellite fleet.
With this approach, NASA can focus more time and resources on its deep space exploration and science missions, the US space agency said on its website.
NASA’s Communications Services Project (CSP)
NASA’s project is called the Communications Services Project (CSP). During the five-year development and demonstration period, each satellite firm will work to lower costs, increase flexibility, and improve performance for a broad range of missions. The contracts create opportunities to develop innovative solutions which could potentially meet NASA’s future mission requirements, and enable each company to grow a domestic commercial SATCOM market.
The six SATCOM providers which bagged the NASA contracts are Kuiper Government Solutions LLC, SpaceX, Inmarsat Government Inc., SES Government Solutions, Telesat US Services LLC, and Viasat Incorporated.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper is Amazon’s planned network of over 3,000 satellites built to provide broadband internet services to remote areas. Kuiper, of Arlington, Virginia, has been awarded $67 million, and its proposed approach demonstrates a commercial optical low-Earth orbiting relay network for SATCOM services to spacecraft in low-Earth orbit, according to NASA.
Optical relay networks are a form of optical communication in which unguided visible, infrared, or ultraviolet light is used to carry a signal.
SpaceX’s Starlink Venture
SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies, of Hawthorne, California, has been awarded $69.96 million. SpaceX’s Starlink venture is a satellite-internet network with about 2,000 satellites in space already.
The company aims to demonstrate a commercial optical low-Earth orbiting relay network for space communications services to spacecraft in low-Earth orbit.
Inmarsat of Reston, Virginia, has been awarded a contract worth $28.6 million. The company aims to demonstrate a commercial radio frequency relay network to spacecraft and launch vehicles for routine missions, contingency operations, launch and ascent, and early operations phase communications.
A contingency operation is a United States legal definition for a military operation that involves the US Armed forces. It is designated by the US Secretary of Defense as an operation in which members of the armed forces are or may become involved in military actions, operations, or hostilities against an enemy of the US, or against an opposing military force. Contingency operations are conducted in response to natural disasters, terrorists, or are directed by appropriate authority to protect national interests.
SES of Reston, Virginia, has been awarded $28.96 million, and will provide space communications services to spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for routine missions and contingency operations, among others.
Telesat And Viasat
Telesat of Arlington, Virginia, and Viasat of Carlsbad, California, have been awarded $30.65 million and $53.3 million, respectively. Both Telesat and Viasat aim to demonstrate commercial radio frequency relay networks for communications services to spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for routine missions.
According to NASA, each satellite firm will complete technology development and in-space demonstration by 2025, in order to prove that their proposed solution will deliver robust, reliable, and cost-effective mission-oriented operations.
NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is managing the CSP under the direction of the Space Communications and Navigation Program, which is located at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
In a statement issued by NASA, Eli Naffah, CSP project manager at the NASA Glenn Research Center, said that by using funded Space Act Agreements, they are able to stimulate industry to demonstrate end-to-end capability leading to operational service.