NASA has awarded six satellite companies, including Amazon’s Project Kuiper and SpaceX’s Starlink, a total of $278.5 million as it looks to the private sector to help replace its communications network by satellite.
The space agency said it had spent the last year evaluating the feasibility of using private networks for its communications needs, allowing it to decommission its existing infrastructure by the end of the decade.
According to NASA, this would allow it to focus its time and resources on deep space exploration and science missions, while driving innovation and competition in the commercial space sector.
The program could also boost the commercial satellite sector. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite technology is expected to provide a range of applications for industry and bring faster broadband to parts of the world that cannot be reached by fixed networks.
The six companies, which also include Inmarsat, SES, Telesat and ViaSat, are expected to match or exceed NASA’s contributions over a five-year development and demonstration period. NASA hopes the program will reduce costs, increase flexibility, and improve the performance of satellite technology for a variety of missions, while improving their own respective businesses.
All six will need to show that their platforms can deliver robust, reliable and cost-effective mission-focused operations, including the capability for new high-speed, high-capacity two-way communications by 2025.
NASA will then seek to award several long-term contracts by 2030, when it will begin phasing out its own systems.
“We follow the proven agency approach developed through commercial cargo and commercial crew services. By utilizing funded Space Act agreements, we are able to incentivize industry to demonstrate end-to-end capability leading to operational service,” said Eli Naffah, project manager for the Communications Services Project at the Center of NASA Glenn research.
“Flight demonstrations are risk reduction activities that will develop multiple capabilities and provide the operational concepts, performance validation, and acquisition models necessary to plan future acquisition of commercial services for each class of mission in the NASA.”