NASA's Near Space Network includes commercial and government-owned, contractor-operated space communications infrastructure. The Near Space Network provides space communications and tracking services to missions operating within two million kilometers of Earth. Credit: NASA

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – NASA has awarded contracts to KSAT Inc. and SpaceLink as part the space agency’s campaign to begin investigating commercial sources for future space communications services.

NASA awarded KSAT a $162,000 contract and SpaceLink a $190,000 contract to conduct studies related to direct-to-Earth and lunar-space-relay communications.

The contracts stem from the effort underway at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Commercialization, Innovation, and Synergies office, working with NASA’s Near Space Network project office, to work with commercial firms to demonstrate their ability to fulfill NASA communications requirements.

SpaceLink is investing in a constellation of satellites in medium-Earth orbit to relay communications between the ground and low-Earth orbit. Initially, the constellation will transmit data through RF links to the ground and rely on optical intersatellite links.

Kongsberg Satellite Services, the parent company for KSAT Inc., is establishing a dedicated antenna network for lunar communications.

SpaceLink said its study for NASA would “identify the barriers, challenges, and solutions associated with integration of optical communications ground terminals into the Near Space Network architecture,” in an Oct. 11 news release.

Fortunately for SpaceLink, the NASA contract “is leveraging all of the work that we’ve been working on for the past two years in building out our ground network,” SpaceLink CEO Dave Bettinger told SpaceNews.

SpaceLink plans to establish the company’s primary gateway for optical and radio frequency communications at California’s Mojave Air & Space Port. On a roughly 20,000-square-meter parcel in Mojave, California, SpaceLink is setting up redundant high-capacity fiber backhaul to connect with data centers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

SpaceLink also is establishing its Gateway Development Lab at the Mojave Air & Space Port.

“Before we have our satellites up there, we’ll have all of the networking and simulation gear to simulate exactly what our network will be doing,”. “We’ll invite customers like NASA to come in and test our system end-to-end as if it was already launched in the sky.”

The technical demonstration consists of an end-to-end test of multi-source data moving from SpaceLink’s Mojave Gateway facility to NASA’s terrestrial network using Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure.

In August, SpaceLink announced work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop protocols for connecting commercial communications constellations with defense and military systems. Earlier in August, SpaceLink announced an agreement with the U.S. Army to explore ways to use the company’s data-relay constellation to deliver commercial satellite imagery directly to troops on the ground.

“We’re showing success on our business model, which includes commercial Earth observation and remote sensing satellites as well as civil space,” Bettinger said. “NASA. is another one of the three legs of our market that we’re going after. Now, we’ve established some NASA credibility. The last leg, of course, is the U.S. Defense Department and we have DARPA and the U.S. Army interacting with us.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...