Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bridging the Gap between Business and Government Space Activities

LADEE. Graphic c/o NASA.
          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

Space Systems/Loral (SSL), a subsidiary of BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA), has been bridging the gap between the commercial and government space sectors, through work on the Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lunar mission, and NASA’s Laser Communications Relay.

The work has supported and demonstrated NASA's initiative to benefit from the commercial space industry, through the merging with SSL’s commercial technology.

Space exploration has always been, and will continue to be, a costly and dangerous endeavor. In the past, the financial risk was borne solely by the taxpayers, who subsidized a program from initial development to completion.

But present day development has resulted in increasing degrees of involvement from the private sector, which is now involved in either wholly funded initiatives, (examples include space tourism and various asteroid mining projects) or a hybrid model, which combines public money with commercial enterprise development such as the various SpaceX activities.

Another example of such hybrid commercial collaboration is the partnering of SSL and NASA on LADEE.

The propulsion systems technology was developed by SSL, and is used extensively in 74 other SSL-built satellites currently operating in geosynchronous orbit. LADEE also carries the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) on board, which recently set a record for transmitting data from the Moon to Earth. The test embodied high data rate communications with the potential to transform communications from outer space. At 600 megabits per second, using only a 4-inch telescope and a 1/2-watt laser installed on the lunar-orbiting satellite, the system is ten times more efficient than any optical receiver ever demonstrated.

Laser Communications Relay Demonstration. Graphic c/o NASA.
This successful demonstration is a necessary developmental step for another task that will be facilitated by SSL, which is the placement of a Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) unit, on an SSL built commercial satellite.

Sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, LCRD is a technology demonstrator combining commercial and government developments. It will be an enduring test bed to help transition optical communications technology into commercial operation. LCRD is expected to launch in 2017.

Paralleling the developmental work in space communications, SSL is working actively to understand how laser communication systems can be adapted for commercial communication satellites. The high data transmission rate will allow near instant communication with any location on earth, for high demand applications such as video links, and will likely do so at a likely reduced cost.

SSL is an outstanding example of a private corporation adapting publicly developed technologies for the commercial space industry to further benefit the wider earth-bound community.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page