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Cognitive Comm/SCaN Testbed

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program is responsible for providing communications and navigation services to space flight missions throughout the solar system. Astronauts, mission controllers, and scientists depend upon the reliable transmission of information between Earth and spacecraft, from low-Earth orbit to deep space. The SCaN Testbed is an advanced integrated communications system and laboratory facility to be installed on the International Space Station (ISS). Using a new generation of Software Defined Radio (SDR) technologies, this ISS facility allows researchers to develop, test, and demonstrate new communications, networking, and navigation capabilities in the actual environment of space. The SCaN Testbed advances space communication technologies in support of future NASA missions and other U.S. space endeavors.



During its development at NASA Glenn Research Center, the SCaN Testbed was also known as the Communications, Navigation, and Networking reConfigurable Testbed (CoNNeCT) project.

SCaN Testbed Value for Space Missions

The growth of Software Defined Radios (SDRs) offers NASA the opportunity to improve the way space missions develop and operate space transceivers for communications, networking, and navigation. Reconfigurable SDRs with communications and navigation functions implemented in software provide the capability to change the functionality of the radio during a mission and optimize the data capabilities (e.g. video, telemetry, voice, etc.). The ability to change the operating characteristics of a radio through software once deployed to space offers the flexibility to adapt to new science opportunities, recover from anomalies within the science payload or communication system, and potentially reduce development cost and risk through reuse of common space platforms to meet specific mission requirements. SDRs can be used on space-based missions to almost any destination.

SCaN Testbed Project Mission Objectives

The SCaN Testbed Project provides NASA, industry, other Government agencies, and academic partners the opportunity to develop and field communications, navigation, and networking technologies in the laboratory and space environment based on reconfigurable, software defined radio platforms and the STRS Architecture. The SCaN Testbed Project Experiments Program will devise, solicit, and conduct on-orbit experiments to validate and advance the open architecture standard for SDRs; advance communication, navigation, and network technologies to mitigate specific NASA mission risks and to enable future mission capabilities.
Identified below are several research and technology areas the SCAN Testbed was designed to support.

Software Defined Radios operating at S, L, and Ka-band.
On-board data management function and payload networking.
Radio Science experiments using the unique capabilities of the SDRs
Precise Navigation and Timing

STRS Architecture

NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation (SCaN) Office has developed an architecture standard for SDRs used in space and ground-based platforms to provide commonality among radio developments to provide enhanced capability and services while reducing mission and programmatic risk. The Space Telecommunications Radio System (STRS) architecture standard defines common waveform software interfaces, methods of instantiation, operation, and testing among different compliant hardware and software products. These common interfaces within the architecture abstract, or remove, the application software from the underlying hardware to enable technology insertion independently at either the software or hardware layer.

SCaN Testbed Location on ISS

The SCaN Testbed launched to the ISS on a Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (JAXA HTV3), and was transferred and installed via Extravehicular Robotics (EVR) to the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier-3 (ELC3) in the inboard, Ram-facing, Zenith-facing payload location on an exterior truss of the ISS. Figure 1 illustrates the location of the SCaN Testbed on the ISS.

Figure 1. SCaN Testbed Location on ISS

SCaN Testbed News

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SCaN Testbed Ka-band Operations featured on ISS Mission Pages

SCaN Testbed Successfully Validated in Space as a Multi-frequency Global Navigation Satellite System Receiver

SCaN Testbed onboard the International Space Station

NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed now is the world’s first flight-validated, in-space U.S. GPS-European Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver. This achievement and flight validation of GNSS signal reception in the space environment enhances GNSS interoperability while enabling more precise and robust orbital predictions, more diverse multi-frequency GNSS capabilities and improved applications such as on-board autonomous spacecraft operations and scientific measurements.

The SCaN Testbed is an advanced, integrated communications laboratory facility that uses a new generation of software-defined radio (SDR) technology to allow researchers to develop, test and demonstrate advanced communications, networking and navigation technologies in space. This SDR technology is based on a new NASA standard – the space telecommunications radio standard (STRS) – that enables radio applications to be changed simply by altering the software. NASA’s SCaN Program has developed the STRS architecture standard for SDR use in space- and ground-based platforms. This architecture standard provides commonality among radio developers to provide enhanced capability and services while reducing mission and programmatic risk. The cost savings and efficiency of this new technology will improve NASA’s data communications in the future. The SCaN Testbed also will help programs, technology developers and mission planners understand how SDRs will be used in future missions.

The ability to track signals from multiple GNSS receivers will enable NASA to improve both space operations and science missions that benefit society as a whole, ranging from better observation of Earth for more precise weather forecasting, sea level height measurements and climate change monitoring. It also will assist in improving our understanding of Earth’s crustal movements and allow advanced tsunami warnings.

This achievement resulted from a “science-of-opportunity” effort, supported by multiple NASA centers, to use the Testbed’s ability to process space-based navigation signals in addition to those of the U.S. GPS system. The SCaN Testbed aboard the International Space Station successfully recorded a navigation signal from the European Galileo satellite constellation and the U.S. GPS constellation at the same time. Signal reception then was successfully correlated to both a Galileo satellite and GPS signal by post-processing data recorded by the SCaN Testbed. The Testbed now is helping pave the way for greater use of international GNSS signals, validate the new modernized GPS signals and support future public and private sector users around the world and beyond Earth.

This reconfigurable laboratory in orbit provides broad participation to NASA, industry, academia and other government agencies to develop and execute experiments on the SCaN Testbed. These experiments will contribute data to the STRS repository and will enable future hardware platforms to use common, reusable software modules to reduce development time and costs. NASA continues to solicit proposals to participate in the development, integration and execution in orbit of research and technology experiments and demonstrations using the Testbed. The first users outside NASA are preparing to validate experiments on the SCaN Testbed, with two announcements of opportunity being prepared for release. The SCaN Testbed Experiment Opportunity invites industry and other government agencies to enter into Space Act Agreements with NASA to use the space station’s SCaN platform. The SCaN Testbed Cooperative Agreement Notice invites academia to develop proposals to use the orbiting laboratory’s SCaN Testbed research capabilities.

NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland leads the SCaN Testbed multi-center team, which includes the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.; and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. General Dynamics of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., developed SDRs under cooperative agreements with NASA. The SCaN Program Office in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington manages, oversees and funds the Testbed.

For more information about the SCaN Testbed, including opportunities for academia, government agencies and industry to participate, please visit:

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