Author Topic: Commercial alternatives to DSN?  (Read 2128 times)

Offline AS_501

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Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« on: 12/01/2023 08:51 pm »
A bit off-topic, but maybe this is a good time to form commercial deep-space communications companies providing services similar to NASA's DSN.  Something will be needed for the many upcoming CLPS missions, and perhaps commercial heliocentric, Mars and asteroid missions some day.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2023 06:27 pm by gongora »
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Offline whitelancer64

A bit off-topic, but maybe this is a good time to form commercial deep-space communications companies providing services similar to NASA's DSN.  Something will be needed for the many upcoming CLPS missions, and perhaps commercial heliocentric, Mars and asteroid missions some day.

It's been discussed in other threads before. The large size and large cost of ground dishes needed for deep space communications - particularly for Mars - and the lack of need for them for other uses, doesn't lend itself to commercial operations. The market just isn't there for it other than NASA and a few other government space probe operations.

Once SpaceX gets a permanent base on Mars, that equation may change. But it can also be changed by operating on both sides - a high power, medium size dish on Mars means you don't need a 70 meter dish on Earth to get their signals from Mars, you can use a more medium size dish. A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
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Offline Jim

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

Online DanClemmensen

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?
It made for some great science fiction in the 1940's
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_Equilateral
Even then, they transmitted direct between LEO and LMO when Mars was closer to Earth than the double hop.

Offline Jim

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?
It made for some great science fiction in the 1940's
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_Equilateral
Even then, they transmitted direct between LEO and LMO when Mars was closer to Earth than the double hop.

Yea, that was for conjunctions and not power

Offline Apollo-phill

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Here is a list I made that used info from NASA paper ( whose ref I've not too hand but may have been JPL or GSFC ? )

Commercial Ground Stations

Goonhilly, UK - supports deep space, lunar and comsats X band 32m GHY-6 commercial antenna ( supported Artemis )

KSAT Singapore — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 9.1m

​​KSAT Svalbard, Norway — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 11.3m/11.3m/13m

​KSAT TrollSat, Antarctica — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 7.3m/7.3m

SANSA Hartebeesthoek, South Africa — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 12m/10m

SSC Kiruna, Sweden — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 13m/13m

SSC Santiago, Chile — Supports: S Band — Assets: 9m/12m/13m

SSC Space US North Pole, Alaska — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 5m/7.3m/11m/13m

SSC Space US Dongara, Australia — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 13m

SSC Space US South Point, Hawaii — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 13m/13m

Government Ground Stations

NASA’s Alaska Satellite Facility, Fairbanks — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 11.3m/11m/9.1m

NASA’s Kennedy Uplink Station — Supports: S-band – Assets: 6.1m

NASA’s Ponce de Leon Station — Supports: S-band – Assets: 6.1m

NASA’s Wallops Ground Station, Virginia — Supports: VHF, S/X Band — Assets: 11m/5m

NASA’s White Sands Ground Station, New Mexico —  Supports: VHF, S/Ka Band — Assets: 18.3m

NASA’s White Sand Complex, New Mexico — Supports VHF, S/Ka Band — Assets: 11m

NASA’s McMurdo Ground Station, Antarctica — Supports: S/X Band — Assets: 10m​


Fairbanks Command and Data Acquisition Station (NOAA partnership), Gilmore Creek, Alaska
KSAT — Kongsberg Satellite Services
NASA — National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NOAA — National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
SANSA — South African National Space Agency
SSC — Swedish Space Corporation

Offline Apollo-phill

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There sure to be many others belonging to groups like ESA, RSA CSA and ASA maybe with others in south America, India  and Middle East.Its whether these would "loaned" on commercial basis and then of course the security of data to/fro flowing through these ground station antennas

Offline Jim

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SCN (former AFSCN)

Diego Garcia Station (DGS), Diego Garcia, BIOT; callsign REEF. T
Guam Tracking Station (GTS), Guam; callsign GUAM.
Hawaii Tracking Station (HTS), Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, Hawaii; callsign HULA.
New Hampshire Station (NHS), New Boston SFS, New Hampshire; callsign BOSS.
Telemetry & Command Station (TCS), RAF Oakhanger, in England, operated by the United Kingdom and supporting the Satellite Control Network through a Memorandum of Agreement between the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defense; callsign LION.
Thule Tracking Station (TTS), Pituffik Space Base, Greenland; callsign POGO.
« Last Edit: 12/02/2023 02:04 pm by Jim »

Offline Jim

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SDO down-links science data (K-band) from its two onboard high-gain antennas, and telemetry (S-band) from its two onboard omnidirectional antennas. The ground station consists of two dedicated (redundant) 18-meter radio antennas in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, constructed specifically for SDO


The baseline tracking for LRO is provided by a NASA station in White Sands (WS1)

Offline whitelancer64


 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Online DanClemmensen

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?
It's a question of orbital mechanics. Where is your relay going to orbit?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.

Offline darkenfast

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.


Anything orbiting between Mars and Earth is going to be moving faster than Mars and slower than Earth, therefore the geometry of the three will change as they all make their respective ways around the Sun. This will negate any advantage of having a relay between Mars and Earth..
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Offline Jim

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.

Again, no sense. It doesn't help on Mars.  The relay will spend a lot of time further way than direct earth - mars.  And it can't be controlled where it needs to be.   The better solution is like now, Mars orbital relays.   Having big antennas on earth is not an issue.  Power and cooling is easy to get.

Offline whitelancer64


 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.


Anything orbiting between Mars and Earth is going to be moving faster than Mars and slower than Earth, therefore the geometry of the three will change as they all make their respective ways around the Sun. This will negate any advantage of having a relay between Mars and Earth..

Oh. The relay satellite should be at Sun-Mars L4 or L5.

I thought that was obvious, that way Mars radio dishes always stay low mass, low power.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Offline whitelancer64


 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.

Again, no sense. It doesn't help on Mars.  The relay will spend a lot of time further way than direct earth - mars.  And it can't be controlled where it needs to be.   The better solution is like now, Mars orbital relays.   Having big antennas on earth is not an issue.  Power and cooling is easy to get.

Having big antennas on Earth is a problem. They are not viable to operate commercially.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Online DanClemmensen

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 A large, high power relay satellite between Earth and Mars would make that even easier. Then both sides can use smaller dishes to send / receive signals to the relay satellite, and it both relays and boosts the signal both ways. But there's no commercial use case for any of that yet.

That makes no sense.  How is that going to work?

You put the big / high power dishes on the relay satellite instead of on the surface of either the Earth or Mars. Then you can have small, lightweight / low power radio antennas on Mars that send a weak signal to the relay satellite. The relay satellite cranks up the signal and blasts it through its big antenna to Earth. The Earth also doesn't need a huge satellite dish to receive this more powerful signal, it can use a modestly sized one. Same process works in reverse to send signals to Mars.


Anything orbiting between Mars and Earth is going to be moving faster than Mars and slower than Earth, therefore the geometry of the three will change as they all make their respective ways around the Sun. This will negate any advantage of having a relay between Mars and Earth..

Oh. The relay satellite should be at Sun-Mars L4 or L5.

I thought that was obvious, that way Mars radio dishes always stay low mass, low power.
You have just about doubled the signal transit delay.

You can use even even cheaper dishes on the surface if you just put three big relays into Mars orbit. Put another set in Earth orbit. Relays talk to each other using Laser links.

Offline Jim

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #16 on: 12/04/2023 06:36 pm »

Having big antennas on Earth is a problem. They are not viable to operate commercially.

Huh?  and a large relay satellite at Sun-Mars L4 or L5 would be?   

Offline Jim

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #17 on: 12/04/2023 06:37 pm »
Put another set in Earth orbit.

No, that makes no sense either. 

Online DanClemmensen

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #18 on: 12/04/2023 06:44 pm »
Put another set in Earth orbit.

No, that makes no sense either.
It depends on how well a laser link from Mars can operate through the earth's atmosphere.

Offline whitelancer64

Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #19 on: 12/04/2023 06:55 pm »

Having big antennas on Earth is a problem. They are not viable to operate commercially.

Huh?  and a large relay satellite at Sun-Mars L4 or L5 would be?

Might be, if there's enough radio traffic to relay. Say, from a large surface base or two on Mars.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Offline gongora

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #20 on: 12/04/2023 06:58 pm »
Here is one dish for Lunar support:
1661-EX-ST-2023

Quote
Pursuant to Section 5.61(a)(1) of the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) Rules, the Ronald G. Eaglin Space Science Center (“SSC”) at Morehead State University (“MSU”), provides this narrative statement to justify its request for Special Temporary Authorization (“STA”) to transmit a 250 kHz emission Earth-to-space centered at 2035.594 MHz to support the Intuitive Machines 1 (“IM-1”) mission to place and test the Nova-C lunar lander on the south pole of the Moon.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2023 06:59 pm by gongora »

Offline Jim

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #21 on: 12/04/2023 07:20 pm »

Having big antennas on Earth is a problem. They are not viable to operate commercially.

Huh?  and a large relay satellite at Sun-Mars L4 or L5 would be?

Might be, if there's enough radio traffic to relay. Say, from a large surface base or two on Mars.

Then Earth ground stations would be even more viable.  They could support other missions in addition to Mars.

Offline Jim

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #22 on: 12/04/2023 07:23 pm »
Put another set in Earth orbit.

No, that makes no sense either.
It depends on how well a laser link from Mars can operate through the earth's atmosphere.

Psyche is 1/2 the minimum distance to Mars and its laser link has been working.

Online DanClemmensen

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Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #23 on: 12/04/2023 07:43 pm »
Put another set in Earth orbit.

No, that makes no sense either.
It depends on how well a laser link from Mars can operate through the earth's atmosphere.

Psyche is 1/2 the minimum distance to Mars and its laser link has been working.
My knowledge of in-space laser links is restricted to the research reading I did over the course of about six months for this patent:
    https://patents.google.com/patent/US9866324B2/en
This reading does not make me an expert, and I did not suddenly become a professional in the field just because I was getting paid. The nice thing about being an old guy with a reputation for being indispensable is that the company will pretty much keep paying you no matter what you do.

One big advantage of staying in space is no worry about clouds. Another big advantage is the receiving telescope sees the transmitter against a dark background instead of having Earth as the background. For the Earth-orbit Mars relays, put maybe two of them in high enough orbits so one is always far enough away from Earth. Perhaps two in the same Molniya orbit but out of phase by 180 degrees?

Offline whitelancer64

Re: Commercial alternatives to DSN?
« Reply #24 on: 12/04/2023 09:10 pm »
Here is one dish for Lunar support:
1661-EX-ST-2023

Quote
Pursuant to Section 5.61(a)(1) of the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) Rules, the Ronald G. Eaglin Space Science Center (“SSC”) at Morehead State University (“MSU”), provides this narrative statement to justify its request for Special Temporary Authorization (“STA”) to transmit a 250 kHz emission Earth-to-space centered at 2035.594 MHz to support the Intuitive Machines 1 (“IM-1”) mission to place and test the Nova-C lunar lander on the south pole of the Moon.

The largest radio dish Morehead has is a 21 meter antenna.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Online tbellman

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Oh. The relay satellite should be at Sun-Mars L4 or L5.

I thought that was obvious, that way Mars radio dishes always stay low mass, low power.

The Sun-Mars L4 and L5 Lagrange points are at a distance of approximately 1.5 astronomical units (au) from Mars.  That's a long way.  It is about three times the distance between Mars and Earth when they are at their closest.  Even during solar conjunction (when Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the Sun), the distance to L4/L5 is about 60% of the Mars-Earth distance.

So if you need e.g. a 17m dish on Earth to pick up signals from Mars during solar conjunction, you will need a 10m dish on the relay satellites.  That's a fairly large antenna to put on a deep space probe, so it won't be cheap.

Much better to put relay satellites in orbit around Mars.  Put three of them in a somewhat high orbit around Mars, do optical inter-satellite links, and optical links towards Earth.  With three satellites, you can make sure that one is always above the horizon for any position on Mars unless too close to the poles, and at least one satellite will be outside of Mars shadow as seen from Earth.  The radio antennas for communicating with assets on the surface (and other satellites in orbit around Mars) can be kept at reasonable sizes, and the optical links between the relays and towards Earth allows higher bandwidth for the same size than radio links.

You want a somewhat high orbit to get good coverage of the surface with just a few satellites.  A somewhat high orbit also helps with the optical links towards Earth: you get spatial separation between the satellite and the bright planet, so the receiving telescope can avoid being blinded by reflected sunlight.  Something like areostationary orbit (about 17000 km altitude) should do fine in terms of altitude, but you might want to go higher, well outside the orbit of Deimos, to lower the amount of stationkeeping needed.

This will still give an outage during solar conjunction, but that's just a couple of weeks every 26 months.  Not worth solving until we have a sizable number (hundreds) of humans on Mars.


A small handful of relay satellites around Earth would also be helpful, to ensure that you always have at least one in sight of Mars (outside solar conjunctions), and to avoid the optical links being blocked by clouds, but that's optional, especially early on.


This would of course only solve communication with Mars.  Other things the Deep Space Network communicates with, e.g. Voyager, New Horizons, Dragonfly, et.c, won't be helped directly.  However, my understanding is that DSN spends quite a lot of time communicating with Mars, so such a relay constellation would free up time on the DSN for non-Mars things.

Now we only need to figure out how to get NASA, ESA, JAXA and others to get money to pay for it...

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