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Design Concepts for a Small Space-Based GEO Relay Satellite for Missions Between Low Earth and near Earth OrbitsThe main purpose of the Small Space-Based Geosynchronous Earth orbiting (GEO) satellite is to provide a space link to the user mission spacecraft for relaying data through ground networks to user Mission Control Centers. The Small Space Based Satellite (SSBS) will provide services comparable to those of a NASA Tracking Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) for the same type of links. The SSBS services will keep the user burden the same or lower than for TDRS and will support the same or higher data rates than those currently supported by TDRS. At present, TDRSS provides links and coverage below GEO; however, SSBS links and coverage capability to above GEO missions are being considered for the future, especially for Human Space Flight Missions (HSF). There is also a rising need for the capability to support high data rate links (exceeding 1 Gbps) for imaging applications. The communication payload on the SSBS will provide S/Ka-band single access links to the mission and a Ku-band link to the ground, with an optical communication payload as an option. To design the communication payload, various link budgets were analyzed and many possible operational scenarios examined. To reduce user burden, using a larger-sized antenna than is currently in use by TDRS was considered. Because of the SSBS design size, it was found that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket could deliver three SSBSs to GEO. This will greatly reduce the launch costs per satellite. Using electric propulsion was also evaluated versus using chemical propulsion; the power system size and time to orbit for various power systems were also considered. This paper will describe how the SSBS will meet future service requirements, concept of operations, and the design to meet NASA users' needs for below and above GEO missions. These users' needs not only address the observational mission requirements but also possible HSF missions to the year 2030. We will provide the trade-off analysis of the communication payload design in terms of the number of links looking above and below GEO; the detailed design of a GEO SSBS spacecraft bus and its accommodation of the communication payload, and a summary of the trade study that resulted in the selection of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle to deploy the SSBS and its impact on cost reductions per satellite. ======================================================================== Several initiatives have taken place within NASA1 and international space agencies2 to create a human exploration strategy for expanding human presence into the solar system; these initiatives have been driven by multiple factors to benefit Earth. Of the many elements in the strategy one stands out: to send robotic and human missions to destinations beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), including cis-lunar space, Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs), the Moon, and Mars and its moons.3, 4 The time frame for human exploration to various destinations, based on the public information available,1,4 is shown in Figure 1. Advance planning is needed to define how future space communications services will be provided in the new budget environment to meet future space communications needs. The spacecraft for these missions can be dispersed anywhere from below LEO to beyond GEO, and to various destinations within the solar system. NASA's Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program office provides communication and tracking services to space missions during launch, in-orbit testing, and operation phases. Currently, SCaN's space networking relay satellites mainly provide services to users below GEO, at Near Earth Orbit (NEO), below LEO, and in deep space. The potential exists for using a space-based relay satellite, located in the vicinity of various solar system destinations, to provide communication space links to missions both below and above its orbit. Such relays can meet the needs of human exploration missions for maximum connectivity to Earth locations and for reduced latency. In the past, several studies assessed the ability of satellite-based relays working above GEO in conjunction with Earth ground stations. Many of these focused on the trade between space relay and direct-to-Earth station links5,6,7. Several others focused on top-level architecture based on relays at various destinations8,9,10,11,12. Much has changed in terms of microwave and optical technology since the publication of the referenced papers; Ka-band communication systems are being deployed, optical communication is being demonstrated, and spacecraft buses are becoming increasingly more functional and operational. A design concept study was undertaken to access the potential for deploying a Small Space-Based Satellite (SSBS) relay capable of serving missions between LEO and NEO. The needs of future human exploration missions were analyzed, and a notional relay-based architecture concept was generated as shown in Fig. 1. Relay satellites in Earth through cis-Lunar orbits are normally located in stable orbits requiring low fuel consumption. Relay satellites for Mars orbit are normally selected based on the mission requirement and projected fuel consumption. Relay satellites have extreme commonalities of functions between them, differing only in the redundancy and frequencies used; therefore, the relay satellite in GEO was selected for further analysis since it will be the first step in achieving a relay-based architecture for human exploration missions (see Fig.Figure 2). The mission design methodology developed by the Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems (COMPASS) team13 was used to produce the satellite relay design and to perform various design trades. At the start of the activity, the team was provided with the detailed concept of the notional architecture and the system and communication payload drivers.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Bhasin, Kul B. (NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Warner, Joseph D. (NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Oleson, Steven (NASA Glenn Research Center Cleveland, OH United States)
Schier, James (NASA Headquarters Washington, DC United States)
Date Acquired
July 23, 2014
Publication Date
May 5, 2014
Subject Category
Communications and Radar
Space Communications, Spacecraft Communications, Command and Tracking
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
SpaceOps 2014 International Conference on Space Operations(Pasadena, CA)
Funding Number(s)
WBS: WBS 613673.
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Relay Satellites
Mission Planning
System Engineering
Small Satellite Design
Communiction payload

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