Entering the Space TDRS Era

Published Date : Aug 21, 2017

The International Space Station orbits in 90 minutes today, and if it were using the communications technology that was present years ago, it could only relay messages for a maximum 15 minutes of its orbit time. This just shows how far we have come today, with innovations such as the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites recently launched by NASA.

Next Generation Space Architecture

NASA is currently developing some of its biggest projects in recent times, including optical communications, a technology that uses lasers to send and receive signals between a spacecraft and a ground station, or between two spacecraft. Theoretically, both lasers and radio waves travel at the same speed – the speed of light – but radio waves hold inherent disadvantages that lasers can work around. Lasers, for instance, operate at a much higher bandwidth frequency, allowing them to carry greater volumes of data than radio waves. This technology could perfectly itself with the current missions in space where scientists are trying to collect massive volumes of data at faster rates than before.

Improving Space Communications

Before the implementation of TRDS, operations could only communicate with satellites when they passed within a certain radius of orbit above the ground station. The communication was, therefore, intermittent, and could only help accomplish results at a slow pace. The addition of the two TRDS projects – the second one that was launched on August 18 – can enhance communication efficiency by as much as 85 percent.