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Helping NASA Connect across Diverse SATCOM Systems

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Just as government decision makers demand resilience and redundancy in their communications networks here on Earth, NASA needs network reliability and flexibility while exploring space. To that end, Hughes supported NASA in a demonstration of intelligent, interoperable satellite communications networking from the Glenn Research Center in Ohio to the International Space Station (ISS) in low earth orbit. At the center of the demonstration was the Hughes Terminal Management Agent (TMA), a software feature that enables network switching across otherwise siloed SATCOM technologies.  

Hughes TMA Technology in Action

A ground-breaking, flexible software capability, the Hughes TMA seamlessly connects various satellite modems, regardless of vendor. The TMA is based on the Flexible Modem Interface (FMI) developed as part of the U.S. Air Force and the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Pilot Project for which Hughes was contracted to deliver a prototype. Based on the success of the FMI, Hughes developed the TMA to be uploaded into a spacecraft already on orbit as a universal translator, able to understand the signals from many networks and speak in each network’s coded language.

In the ISS test, a signal was sent from the Glenn Research Center’s Testbed Control Center and connected to the SCaN Testbed (STB) aboard the ISS. A software-defined radio within the STB was controlled dynamically by the TMA, enabling it to switch waveforms. During the test, the TMA changed the signal from one distinct service configuration – “Mode A,” representing a commercial service provider – to another – “Mode B,” representing a NASA service provider – and sent an acknowledgement to the ground. The process was then repeated to switch back to the original Mode A.

Open-systems Technology Drives Interoperability

During this collaboration with Hughes, NASA became one of many government customers helping to create a robust commercial marketplace for diverse services at competitive prices. With network interoperability, such as that enabled by the Hughes TMA, space users can roam seamlessly among commercial and military services and networks – a significant step forward in enabling the network resiliency and redundancy required by military users today.