|Issue:||Latin America II 1996|
|Topic:||NEWS FROM N.A.S.A.|
During the past year the Hubble Space Telescope has provided exciting images of the universe that are literally rewriting the astronomy books. The Hubble mission has provided a continuous stream of unprecedented images that both challenge and inspire people of all nations. Pictures of the Orion and Eagle Nebula are examples of the images being captured.
The revolution in astronomy that is being driven by the Hubble Space Telescope parallels a revolution in communications technology and management that is occurring in support of future missions. Numerous changes in mission mix, communications technology, and communications management structures will rewrite the book on how NASA supports science missions in the next decade. The current major NASA mission challenge, the Mission to Planet Earth, is creating a number of technical challenges with respect to the large volume of data that needs to be captured, processed, and distributed. Once the Earth Observing System AM-1 spacecraft is launched in 1998 the volume of data received will match NASA’s present earth science data holding in just 47 days. The EOS set of missions and their data system will create the same advancements in earth science that HST is creating now in astronomy. The AM-1 mission will be supported totally by the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). Future Earth Observing System (EOS) missions are exploring the use of high latitude ground stations for the telemetry receipt. In addition to potential changes in the front end, the Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) is being implemented to provide the earth science community with the on-line access to the data products developed from these missions. This is a significant challenge given the data volume and diversity of the user community. Another mission mix change is a shift from a few large observatories to a growing number of small scientific and technology oriented missions. Smaller missions series such as the Medium Explorers (MIDEX) and Small Explorer missions (SMEX) and the beginning of new technology missions such as the New Millennium Probes and the Earth System Science Pathfinder series are creating new challenges for space to ground communications. The small size of these new spacecraft, coupled with advances in low cost automated ground stations has started a shift from Tracking and Data Relay System support and large shared ground stations to dedicated user ground terminals. This represents a shift in roles from managing unique shared resources to a more flexible, user-driven mission environment for the smaller missions. For the unmanned NASA missions, there is an active technology program to address space-to-space communications. The growing data volume, application of solid state memory, use of internet compatible protocols, and application of automation techniques are changing the way missions are conducted. A key aspect of work in this area is the development of interface and communications standards that allow for increased commercialization while not restricting further technology development. Other technical area changes are concerned with moving the lessons learned from the Applied Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) into operations, implementing the next generation of TDRSS satellites, exploring direct broadcast options for the future, and initiating technology efforts to take advantage of the global networks, such as Iridium and Globalstar, that are being implemented. These advances in communications provide an opportunity to shift from present telemetry systems to a more interactive communication link on new science satellites. A major challenge is the migration of the upcoming missions to new approaches while simultaneously managing legacy missions and their older technology. In the programmatic area for low earth orbiters, NASA is exploring the commercialization of the 26M network that is used to support many of the low earth orbiting missions. This effort is to be completed by 1997. NASA is also exploring commercial options for obtaining high latitude support for the EOS missions; these activities reinforce the direction that NASA is moving to develop the high risk technology. Also, NASA is restructuring its communications management approach to increase contractor responsibility for routine operations and to increase the sharing of capabilities between the various NASA centers. Conclusion In summary, as the public is admiring the Science that is presently being obtained through the HST, NASA is repositioning itself for the new challenges of the next decade. This involves new ways of obtaining science information, new partnerships with industry to improve commercial activities, and investing in new technology to meet the challenges of the new missions. This is driven by a need to reduce cost. Growing commercial capabilities make achieving dramatic cost saving a possibility, but to take advantage of these NASA is re engineering not only its operating architecture but also its organizational structure, relationships with mission teams, and role as a technology provider.