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NASA considering proposal for commercial Mars data relay

By Salome Phelamei | Last Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 21:13

Zee Media Bureau/Salome Phelamei

Washington: To avoid a potential communications gap that is set to happen in 2020, NASA is currently looking for proposals for commercial satellites to be put in the orbit around Mars for telecommunication purposes on future missions.

As NASA has no plans to launch orbiters capable of taking over data relay duties from the existing spacecraft, this could disrupt communications in the coming years.

The agency has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to investigate the possibility of using commercial Mars-orbiting satellites to provide telecommunications capabilities for future robotic missions to Mars.
“We are looking to broaden participation in the exploration of Mars to include new models for government and commercial partnerships,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Depending on the outcome, the new model could be a vital component in future science missions and the path for humans to Mars.”

Currently, NASA`s Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), launched in 2005, enable data links from the Opportunity rovers and Curiosity on the Mars`s surface.

While both orbiting communications spacecraft are working well, they are both well over their designed lifetimes.
Hence, two new spacecraft - Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) – that will arrive at the Red Planet in September this year, and European Space Agency’s ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter, due to arrive in 2016, are set to take over the data relay duties from the ageing spacecraft.

Since NASA has no plans beyond that, the agency is looking for commercial partners that could overcome this shortfall.

It says that the proposals in response to NASA`s request are due by August 25.
Photo credit: NASA/JPL

First Published: Friday, July 25, 2014 - 21:13
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