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NASA Communications and Navigation in 2021: Top 10 Iconic Moments

NASA Communications and Navigation in 2021: Top 10 Iconic Moments

NASA Communications and Navigation in 2021: Top 10 Iconic Moments

Did you know NASA uses global networks of antennas and relay satellites to talk with astronauts and spacecraft?

Our space communications and navigation community has had an incredible year! From supporting science and exploration missions to developing cutting-edge tech, here are some of the team’s most impactful accomplishments of 2021.

1. We launched a revolutionary tech demo, the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration, which will showcase the benefits of using infrared laser links to send data from space. Laser communications systems can offer 10 to 100 times more data per second than traditional radio! You can learn more about the mission in a new season of our podcast, The Invisible Network.

2. Planetary radars observed their 1,000th near-Earth asteroid since 1968! Our Deep Space Network plays a critical role in detecting near-Earth asteroids, using radar to spot them. These radar detections help definitively predict if an asteroid is going to hit Earth, or if it’s just going to pass close by.

3. We used lessons learned developing communications services for the Moon to address digital inequality on Earth. Folks at our Glenn Research Center in Cleveland examined how lunar network approaches could address technical challenges to Wi-Fi connectivity in their local community.

4. Our Search and Rescue office participated in dress rehearsals for the Artemis I mission to the Moon! They tested critical distress technologies that will help locate Artemis astronauts in the unlikely event they need to leave the Orion capsule and enter open water before recovery teams can reach them.

5. With high international participation, we hosted a virtual workshop on cognitive communications at our Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Cognitive communications employs artificial intelligence and machine learning in radio systems to provide a host of benefits to user missions!

6. We celebrated the 100th birthday of the creator of Star Trek, the late Gene Roddenberry. The event featured Roddenberry’s son Rod, NASA administrator Bill Nelson, and Star Trek actor George Takei. Following the program, our Deep Space Network broadcast Gene’s 1976 remarks on diversity and inclusion toward star system 40 Eridani — home to the planet Vulcan in Star Trek lore. Signals from the broadcast will arrive there in 16.5 years.

7. We worked with the aerospace community to refine our LunaNet architecture for lunar communications and navigation services! LunaNet will leverage innovative networking techniques, standards, and an extensible framework to rapidly expand network capabilities at the Moon for Artemis. This framework will allow industry, academia, and international partners to build and operate LunaNet nodes alongside us.

8. Our Deep Space Network welcomed a brand new satellite dish into the family! Called Deep Space Station 56, or DSS-56, the 112-foot-wide (34-meter) dish is now online and ready to communicate for a variety of uses, including missions at the Moon and Mars.

9. Our Near Space Network engaged with over 200 commercial aerospace companies! They’re working toward a new paradigm where NASA missions near Earth can rely on a blend of government and commercial space communications infrastructure to meet their needs.

10. Our 10th item on the list isn’t a single moment, but the continued support our communications networks provided missions throughout 2021. Whether it was a Commercial Crew mission to the International Space Station or the Perseverance Rover’s touchdown on Mars, our Near Space Network and Deep Space Network were there to empower mission success!

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