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RF Propagation

NASA has been involved in the statistical characterization of radio frequency (RF) wave propagation through the atmosphere at locations around the world. The results of this research have been used to solve numerous communication system issues including: ground station design and availability planning for Deep Space and Near-Earth communication assets, along with the development of global propagation models in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Importance of RF Propagation Research Laboratory

Satellites are being used in ever greater numbers for all aspects of communications. The RF Propagation Research Laboratory (RFPL) ensures that these communications systems are available when needed. Several tools are used in these investigations: interferometers, radiometers, and meteorological instruments – many of which were designed and fabricated in the RFPI.
RF Propagation

Figure 1. Current propagation studies.


The RFPL is located at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH. It is here that the propagation terminals are designed, fabricated, tested and characterized before being deployed all over the world to collect critical information which aids in the system planning for ground-to-space communications system design and performance.


• Real time phase fluctuation measurements
• Real time amplitude scintillation measurements
• Continually growing data base of atmospheric stability measurements as well as surface meteorological measurements at sites around the world
• Determination of site suitability for ground-based systems/arrays
• Support NASA system planning teams providing accurate margins for optimal system performance
• Employs an experienced staff of expert engineers, technicians, researchers
• Moving communication possibilities forward by characterizing ever higher frequency bands (Ka, V, W Band)


• Interferometer development (for active sensing atmosphere)
• Radiometer development (for passive sensing of atmosphere)
• Characterization of the atmosphere at NASA’s key network sites (DSN, NEN, SN)
• Long term statistical analysis of site stability
• Development/Validation of atmospheric models

RF Propagation Website

For more information, visit the RF Propagation Database at

Radio Frequency (RF) Propagation Information

Principal Investigator: James Nessel,