Author Topic: NASA seeks to boost Mars communication network ahead of human missions  (Read 14959 times)


Offline Lee Jay

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Interesting article.

Would it make technical sense to launch something like MRO and in the same launch have a small fleet of support craft (much smaller) that only have the capability to communicate with the surface and the main vehicle, thus providing near-global coverage all in one launch?

Offline redliox

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Mentioning the NEX-SAG report here: http://mepag.nasa.gov/reports/NEX-SAG_draft_v29_FINAL.pdf

Integrating communication capable of supporting human missions is going to be a large factor for the next Mars orbiter, whatever its full mission and name are called; however it won't be the next orbiter's exclusive purpose, as it will be juggling numerous priorities at once.
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Offline AegeanBlue

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There is actually already a thread at the Space Science section:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37236.0

True, it hasn't been updated in months

Offline Lar

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This seems like a logical thing for SpaceX/CommsX to bid on, it will be interesting to see if they do and what they submit...
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Jim

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This seems like a logical thing for SpaceX/CommsX to bid on, it will be interesting to see if they do and what they submit...

Commx hasn't orbited one spacecraft yet in LEO much less Mars.  They would not be qualified.

Offline nadreck

This seems like a logical thing for SpaceX/CommsX to bid on, it will be interesting to see if they do and what they submit...

Commx hasn't orbited one spacecraft yet in LEO much less Mars.  They would not be qualified.

Excuse me unless you are telling me that CommsX does not benefit from the SpaceX experience for some arcane reason, then they have designed 3 different spacecraft and flown 2 of those designs successfully and for paying customers.
It is all well and good to quote those things that made it past your confirmation bias that other people wrote, but this is a discussion board damnit! Let us know what you think! And why!

Offline Jim

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Excuse me unless you are telling me that CommsX does not benefit from the SpaceX experience for some arcane reason, then they have designed 3 different spacecraft and flown 2 of those designs successfully and for paying customers.

Yes, unless those people specifically moved from Spacex to commx

Also,  it is one spacecraft with variations and it is not a comsat nor did it leave LEO.  Neither are revelant experience for a such a contract.
« Last Edit: 04/25/2016 07:52 PM by Jim »

Offline redliox

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There is actually already a thread at the Space Science section:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37236.0

True, it hasn't been updated in months

That's because the Mars Telecom Orbiter was canceled some time ago; the need still exists although, because it's not everyday anything goes to Mars, NASA's at least ensuring all orbiters can play the telecom game while scientists call the shots.

Would it make technical sense to launch something like MRO and in the same launch have a small fleet of support craft (much smaller) that only have the capability to communicate with the surface and the main vehicle, thus providing near-global coverage all in one launch?

Near-global coverage is useful for a science team on Earth, but for a team at one site on Mars you have to wait for the satellite to fly over again which, depending on the exact orbit, may not happen again for days.  Regarding handling Mars, NASA will have to debate policy on whether blackouts that long without a backup (such as a direct-to-Earth link) can be tolerated.  So either a human team will have a network of low-orbiting satellites or one stationary satellite; barring the network I'd personally suggest putting the one sat in a 1/2-sol orbit as a compromise although SEP may allow shifting a stationary satellite to cover new sites, and not be bound to hover over one spot indefinitely.

I don't think we will have another MRO per say sent again; by which I mean the next generation of Mars orbiters will include SEP and optical communication more and more often, neither of which MRO had.  Even if only one orbiter is sent, it will be much better than MRO at staying in orbit and talking with Mars.  :)
« Last Edit: 04/25/2016 07:54 PM by redliox »
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Offline Lar

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This seems like a logical thing for SpaceX/CommsX to bid on, it will be interesting to see if they do and what they submit...

Commx hasn't orbited one spacecraft yet in LEO much less Mars.  They would not be qualified.
I don't know what the specs in the RFP are, so you're probably right. But SpaceX is going to be doing something like this in any case presumably, so might bid anyway. Or just do it themselves.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline AegeanBlue

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Oh please, why is this turning into an "I love SpaceX" thread again? Unless you have an actual real life plan set up by CommX/SpaceX, in which case by all means let's discuss it, they are the least likely provider to receive this contract.

My understanding and I am a learned amateur is that the plan is for an orbiter in high orbit that will be able to see the landers several hours per day, instead of a 5-10 minute pass once a day, which is the current situation with the scientific orbiters currently on Mars. If there is an RfI now, then we should have a selection in 2018 for a 2024 launch, perhaps a later selection if science is kept low as opposed to having primarily a telecom function. Historically though this has not happened, SMD prefers to have science satellites. My understanding is that we will have a bird on an orbit that is primarily for communications, but on which they can put as much science as possible, as opposed to a Martian TDRS. Knowing how things work we are more likely to see the contract go to OldSpace, such as Lockheed Martin or Orbital ATK than an unproven microsatellite provider. As for the launch vehicle, if it is labelled a critical mission it can only fly on an Atlas V or a Delta II today, other launchers do not have that certification. Then again by 2018, I have no idea

Offline Robotbeat

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So apparently you can only build a beyond-LEO spacecraft if you've already built a beyond-LEO spacecraft. Wait, what?
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline shooter6947

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Who's paying for this:  HEOMD, or PSD?

Offline nadreck


Excuse me unless you are telling me that CommsX does not benefit from the SpaceX experience for some arcane reason, then they have designed 3 different spacecraft and flown 2 of those designs successfully and for paying customers.

Yes, unless those people specifically moved from Spacex to commx

Also,  it is one spacecraft with variations and it is not a comsat nor did it leave LEO.  Neither are revelant experience for a such a contract.

Well neither of the spacecraft they designed that flew (in space) were comms sats, but they both demonstrated the ability to communicate and maneuver, one of the two beyond leo, and the other handling fairly complicated station keeping and maneuvering tasks with an extended lifespan.

So yes the one you aren't acknowledging is the Falcon upper stage that continues to function after it has delivered its payload to either de-orbit, or in the case of the DSCOVR that managed to stay functional and communicated well beyond LEO.


The Dragon 2 hasn't flown yet but it also qualifies as a spacecraft and has made it through a lot of steps towards being a qualified design with the same customer who would be determining whether SpaceX/CommsX would be qualified to bid.  SpaceX/CommsX enthusiasm for this project isn't enough to qualify them, however this looks to be aimed at organizations who want to send Mars orbital science platforms to Mars not to comms satellite manufacturers or operators.

Does experience designing comms satellites enter into this? Not really as they don't provide interplanetary links either, this is relatively new, since NASA is soliciting interest, they are already thinking outside of the exclusive group of organizations who have craft that serve this function in Mars orbit already, and that 'edge connector' nature relaying to and from Earth to stations at Mars simply has no relevant existing services, so either no one is qualified, or anyone who demonstrates reliable spacecraft design that has a proposed approach to developing the Earth-Mars segment should be acceptable.
It is all well and good to quote those things that made it past your confirmation bias that other people wrote, but this is a discussion board damnit! Let us know what you think! And why!

Offline AegeanBlue

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So apparently you can only build a beyond-LEO spacecraft if you've already built a beyond-LEO spacecraft. Wait, what?

When the officials evaluate the proposals, one of the things they evaluate is technical risk. Orbital did get Dawn, but that was after they had built tons of spacecraft orbiting Earth. How many full size satellites, preferably the kind that can provide heritage to a Mars satellite, has SpaceX built? How many of them will be orbiting the Earth to provide a baseline of reliability in 2018? SMD would rather pay twice for something that will actually work, the twin failures of 1999 drove that message hard

Who's paying for this:  HEOMD, or PSD?

My understanding is SMD

Offline redliox

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Regarding the pseudo-SpaceX fight going on, I'm less concerned about who builds the network and more on how many satellites must be built.  I'd be pretty disappointed in a network of 1 Mars sat.  :(  That would also explain why Mark Watney had to dig up Pathfinder to establish a decent comm system...  :P
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Offline Lar

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Some crosslinking seems in order

See this thread https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=38638 ... I could see SpaceX submitting a bid that said "we don't care if we qualify under the criteria you set up... our bid is that we'll provide so much bandwidth in such and such a manner, and if we don't provide it you don't have to pay, but if we provide the capability you have to use it. Nothing down up front..."

 Not in this reality, that would be too annoying to NASA and congress, but I could see it in some alternate reality.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Robotbeat

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So apparently you can only build a beyond-LEO spacecraft if you've already built a beyond-LEO spacecraft. Wait, what?

When the officials evaluate the proposals, one of the things they evaluate is technical risk. Orbital did get Dawn, but that was after they had built tons of spacecraft orbiting Earth. How many full size satellites, preferably the kind that can provide heritage to a Mars satellite, has SpaceX built? How many of them will be orbiting the Earth to provide a baseline of reliability in 2018? SMD would rather pay twice for something that will actually work, the twin failures of 1999 drove that message hard...
There are other ways a good proposer could do risk-reduction. For instance, they may launch an actual Mars payload in the 2018 timeframe, which would provide pretty darned good argument that SpaceX is competent enough to pull this off. Another is that SpaceX may propose sending multiple spacecraft (several more than the minimum) and does a cost-sharing agreement. That would credibly provide NASA with assurance that SpaceX WILL actually succeed (ensured perhaps by some NASA insight), given that they could well afford 2 of the satellites to fail.

And SpaceX does intend to fly a couple small comms demo satellites into orbit this year, if I remember the FAA license correctly.

The evaluators would be very short-sighted to not be open to some of these alternative risk-reduction strategies.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline savuporo

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Oh please, why is this turning into an "I love SpaceX" thread again? Unless you have an actual real life plan set up by CommX/SpaceX, in which case by all means let's discuss it, they are the least likely provider to receive this contract.
You misunderstand. There are only like 30 commercial comsat building companies around, many of them with decades of experience and flight heritage. Most of them competing on a global telecom satellite market that is objectively measurably about 10x the size of launch market. Folks like these wouldn't have a first clue about building spacecraft or payloads for one. /s



Orion - the first and only manned not-too-deep-space craft

Offline redliox

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If I had to predict what the 2030 Mars satellite network looked like, this is my guess:
-NASA NEX-Orbiter (slightly aged)
-ESA ExoMars (definetely aged but useable)
-Insert Random Orbiter Probe Here
-Commercial Satellite
If NASA's Generous
-Second Commercial Satellite
-2 to 6 Cubesats to supplement


NASA's basically stating they know they need at least one decent satellite prior to humans.  Hopefully commercial companies inject some great ideas to increase the network, but they will need an elaborate mating dance if they expect extravagant results.

(side comment: add SpaceX logo on dancing bird = SpaceX fans here)
« Last Edit: 04/25/2016 10:05 PM by redliox »
"Let the trails lead where they may, I will follow."
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