Expanding Direct-To-Earth Communications Capabilities for Artemis

Rendering of the Orion spacecraft aproaching the lunar Gateway space station on the Artemis missions. Credit: NASA

NASA plans to implement three new ground stations that will provide near-continuous communications support to missions up to two million kilometers from Earth through NASA's Near Space Network.

These Lunar Exploration Ground Sites (LEGS) will be critical to the success of NASA's Artemis program, providing needed and enhanced direct-to-Earth communications capabilities to lunar missions.

"The main goal of the LEGS project is to offload services from the Deep Space Network," said LEGS Project Manager T.J. Crooks. "As the number of lunar missions grows, NASA will need new infrastructure that can support Artemis while the Deep Space Network focuses on missions at Mars and farther into the solar system."

The Artemis program seeks to establish a sustained presence at the Moon to test technologies needed for the journey on to Mars. The Artemis missions will send the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface.

"Some of LEGS' primary customers will be the key components of Artemis, like the lunar-orbiting Gateway and Human Landing System, beginning with the Artemis III mission," said Crooks.

LEGS ground stations will also empower spacecraft at Earth-Sun Lagrange points, where the gravitational forces of the Sun and Earth are balanced. Because spacecraft at these Lagrange points are stationary relative to Earth, Lagrange points serve as excellent locations for science observatories, like the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which the LEGS team plans to support.

NASA will implement the first LEGS ground station at NASA's White Sands Complex in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The other two ground stations will be strategically located to keep the Moon in view at all times.

"In order to provide near-continuous coverage at the Moon, we'll have to have additional stations located somewhere in Europe or Africa, and one in the Pacific," said Crooks. "We're evaluating the best locations right now."

Each LEGS antenna will be able to support multiple spacecraft at once. LEGS will offer a diverse set of communications capabilities and some of the highest data rates NASA offers over radio frequency.

"We're working with customers to define our requirements, but right now we think LEGS will consist of 18-meter, tri-band antennas," said Crooks. "That architecture would meet the needs of a wide variety of planned missions using X-, S-, and Ka-band."

The LEGS project is currently in its formulation phase, working toward its system requirements review. After passing the review, the LEGS team will begin design and implementation with a goal of supporting the Artemis III mission, which NASA plans to launch in the mid-2020s.

While the LEGS station at White Sands will be government-owned, contractor-operated infrastructure, NASA is considering working with the private sector to develop the other two ground sites. NASA's Commercialization, Innovation, and Synergies (CIS) office recently held a forum to survey commercial capabilities and continues to engage with industry partners.

If you work for a company interested in providing communications support to NASA's Artemis program, contact us at: nasa-commercialsynergies@mail.nasa.gov

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