New Space and Tech

NASA RFI: Next Generation Space-based Relay Communication and Navigation Architecture

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
March 8, 2013
Filed under , ,
NASA RFI: Next Generation Space-based Relay Communication and Navigation Architecture

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is soliciting information through this Request for Information (RFI) in support of the Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Space-Based Relay Architecture Study.
Synopsis – Mar 07, 2013

General Information

Solicitation Number: SBRSFYI1301
Posted Date: Mar 07, 2013
FedBizOpps Posted Date: Mar 07, 2013
Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action: No
Original Response Date: Mar 28, 2013
Current Response Date: Mar 28, 2013
Classification Code: A — Research and Development
NAICS Code: 541712

Contracting Office Address

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 210.P, Greenbelt, MD


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is soliciting information through this Request for Information (RFI) in support of the Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Space-Based Relay Architecture Study.

The GSFC is responsible for providing the Agency’s communications and navigation services for space flight missions in the vicinity of the Earth. These services are considered a national asset, serving the NASA science and human spaceflight community, other government agencies, and international partners. The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program provides user missions with communication services that may include transmitting data and/or commands to and from user mission platforms (such as crewed and/or uncrewed space vehicles); deriving information from transmitted signals for tracking, position determination, and timing; and measuring the Radio Frequency (RF) emission or reflection from celestial bodies.

Currently, the GSFC manages the Space Network (SN) Element, comprised of the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) and associated ground stations. The GSFC also manages the Near Earth Network (NEN). The SN is a unique, world-class satellite communications system, which relays command, telemetry, tracking and science data at S-, Ku-, and Ka-Band frequencies to and from customers. TDRSS customers include Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) scientific satellites, the International Space Station (ISS) and its servicing fleet, scientific aircraft and balloons and expendable launch vehicles. The SN consists of a constellation of seven TDRS geosynchronous satellites and associated ground systems and operates essentially as a bent pipe relay system between civilian customer platforms and ground facilities (global coverage and low latency support). While the SCaN Program is in the process of launching three new third generation TDRSS satellites (K/L/M), by the end of this decade the remaining on-orbit satellites are aging and expected to be retired within the next decade or so. Most of these satellites have exceeded their design life. With constellation capacity projected to fall below aggregate mission demand by the early 2020’s, there is an emerging need to initiate planning for a future communication architecture.

The GSFC is leading a study for the SCaN Program to address the architecture for the development of the next generation architecture for civilian space communications and navigation, which may include both space-and ground-based assets. The capability of the future architecture must be driven by user needs and stakeholder interests. It shall also take into consideration a measure of backward compatibility with the current TDRSS, assuming there will be a subset of customers moving to the new relay system. It shall also consider future science missions with greatly increased sensitivity of sensors that are capable of large data captures as well as future missions to the Moon and Mars where surface activities require supporting communications. The cost value proposition of the future architecture must be an integral part of its design. Ownership and operations options will be evaluated including government-owned, commercially owned, and mixtures. The future architecture must be flexible to meet dynamically changing needs between investments in operations (e.g. to lower cost) and development (i.e. to infuse technologies). Another goal would be to have the architecture interoperable with communication systems operated by other civilian government agencies, international space agencies, and potential commercial service providers as well as with the NEN and DSN. The resultant architecture must be affordable as well as sustainable within a flat or decreasing budget environment. The architecture must be extensible to address new requirements from traditional (e.g. higher data rate or ultra-precise orbit determination missions) and non-traditional markets (e.g. human deep space missions). The resultant architecture should take into consideration the need for security and be protective of these national assets and impervious to system breach. Responders should make assumptions about user needs and data volumes for the 2022 and beyond timeframes based on representative science missions and extensions. These objectives should not limit consideration of non-traditional concepts, models and/or designs.

Under the direction of the SCaN organization located within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has been tasked to analyze the trade space and define the top level framework for the next generation Space Based Relay Architecture. Alternative solutions that may cross current boundaries with respect to services acquired from non-traditional partners will not be excluded.

Instructions for Responses

NOTE: This is not a request for proposal, quotation, or invitation for bid notice and is intended for information and planning purposes only. NASA does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI. However, NASA may consider issuing formal solicitations at a later date. NASA is also seeking capabilities from all categories of Small Businesses for the purpose of determining the appropriate level of competition and/or Small Business subcontracting goals for this requirement.

No solicitation exists; therefore, do not request a copy of the solicitation. If a solicitation is released it will be synopsized in FedBizOpps and on the NASA Acquisition Internet Service. It is the potential offeror’s responsibility to monitor these sites for the release of any solicitation or synopsis. This synopsis is for information and planning purposes, subject to FAR Clause 52.215-3 entitled “Solicitation for Information or Planning Purposes”, and is not to be construed as a commitment by the Government nor will the Government pay for information solicited.

NASA will not provide reimbursement for any costs incurred in responding to this RFI. Respondents are advised that NASA is under no obligation to provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted under this RFI. NASA may contact respondents to this RFI if clarifications or additional information is desired. Responses to this RFI do not bind NASA to any further actions related to this topic. This announcement contains all information required to submit a response. A white paper further detailing NASAs assumptions may be found at SCaN’s website at The NASA study team will review the responses to the RFI. The RFI responses may lead to a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) to evaluate and select multiple offers (approximately 2 or 3) for follow-on Architecture Studies in fiscal year 2014.

Any resultant study activity is intended to identify ideas and major components of future space based communication relay architectures defined by assumptions of user service needs and data volumes. Architectures should be cost effective, extensible and sustainable in a flat and/or decreasing budget environment. In addition, NASA is seeking game changing business models to advance Space Based Relay communications and tracking through the next several decades.

NASA appreciates responses from all interested parties including, but not limited to, private or public companies within the SATCOM Industry, its second-tier suppliers and representing associations, universities, university affiliated research centers, and government research laboratories. NASA will entertain joint responses from self-formed teams in order to capture broad shared perspectives.

Interested offerors having the required specialized capabilities to meet associated requirements should submit a response statement of 25 pages or less. Oral communications alone in response to this RFI will not be considered. RFI responses are requested in either Microsoft Word versions 2000-2007 (.doc) or Adobe Acrobat versions 6-8 (.pdf) formats. Please use single space 12-point, Times New Roman font. Please name the file SBRS_RFI_companyname.doc or SBRS_RFI_companyname.pdf. The response statement should address the following topics. Additional topics germane to the subject area are welcome. Guidance on the suggested maximum length of the response is provided. A response may include a new topic as long as the topic does not exceed 2 pages, and the total length of the response should not exceed 25 pages. References to hyperlinks may be made for any prior related work efforts.

NASA is exploring the full architecture trade space for a post 2025 relay satellite system. Cognizant of the large range of options available today and projected in the future due to commercial marketing of advanced communications technologies, spacecraft development trends and innovative partnerships, the purpose of this RFI is to gather information from industry and academia which can inform our “smart buyer” architecture study. An industry study for Phase A Architecture studies may be released subsequent to this RFI process.

All responses should:

A. Describe current and/or future communications and navigation approaches that address : i. The needs of traditional science users and future Human Space Flight (HSF) capabilities for travel to and beyond LEO and consider the uncertainties in the HSF destination model. ii. Anticipated degree of backward compatibility required, given current Space Network model predictions for the health and residual capability of the TDRS constellation beyond 2020. iii. Extensibility and interoperability based on existing standards to leverage evolving technologies and future needs

B. Describe innovative business models and partnerships for future relay communications schemes (may include new paradigms), and how these might lower the cost of developing, operating and sustaining communication and navigation systems for NASA. C. Describe business models that enable or benefit from international partnerships and/or collaborations D. Given the wide range of potential NASA future users, including aircraft, small science satellites, clusters of smallsats, robotic and human exploration vehicles, long duration balloons, airships and unmanned aerial vehicles, what innovations in network architecture including modeling and control, information flow, etc., would revolutionize a future space-based architecture? E. How does the emergence of the private launch and commercial crew/cargo services market affect NASA’s future space communications relay architecture? F. Describe disruptive spacecraft communication, and navigation technologies and systems breakthroughs anticipated to have high impact for architecting next generation communication and navigation systems for use over the next 2-3 decades G. Provide projections for cost of providing service, economies of scale, price point and degree of autonomy anticipated for future communication and navigation capabilities, and how this might influence the overall architecting process. H. How does a future routine satellite servicing capability at or below the geosynchronous arc influence future business models for space communications and navigation providers? I. How would the capability to store and route data onboard relay satellites (space internetworking) compare to a traditional bent pipe approach in the next generation system architecture? J. Describe other relevant area(s) that responders consider beneficial to inform the Space Based Relay communications architecture studies.

Responders shall clearly mark proprietary information, export controlled information (including International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restricted information) or confidential information in response to this RFI.

Technical questions should be directed to Dr. Kul Bhasin at 216.433.3676, e-mail:

All responses shall be submitted to Mr. DeAndre Rawlings at email: by the response date listed above, no later than 2:00 PM EST on the response date noted above. Please reference the number listed above in your response.

Point of Contact

Name: DeAndre Rawlings
Title: Contract Specialist
Phone: 301-286-0206
Fax: 301-286-6299

Name: Carlos R McKenzie
Title: Associate Chief, Program Support Office
Phone: 301-286-8008
Fax: 301-286-0247

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.