A NASA experimental communications test bed delivered to the international space station last year aboard a Japanese H-2B Transfer Vehicle has begun its experiments after completing its checkout, NASA announced April 23.

The Space Communications and Navigation (SCAN) test bed is an integrated communications laboratory that uses a new generation of software-defined radio technology to allow researchers to develop and demonstrate advanced communications, networking and navigation technologies, according to a NASA press release.

NASA said the test bed is currently being used to test S- and Ka-band software-defined radio technology, which enables radio characteristics and functionality to be changed by altering the software. NASA also plans to conduct an experiment with its latest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) that the agency said will be the first in-orbit test and demonstration of a TDRS satellite acquiring and auto-tracking a Ka-band user in low Earth orbit.

NASA has been soliciting research proposals for the SCAN test bed and plans to open up the laboratory to non-NASA experiments by 2014.

NASA expects the test bed to operate aboard the space station for as long as six years.