Communicating in space is still pretty rough, and our current information-transferring system is aging quick. There must be a better system, and NASA is open to suggestions.
The space agency has posted a Request for Information, or RFI, on creating “Next Generation Spaced-Based Relay Communication And Navigation Architecture.” If that sounds a little vague, it should. This is what the current system is responsible for:
The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program provides user missions with communication services that may include transmitting data and/or commands to and from user mission platforms (such as crewed and/or uncrewed space vehicles); deriving information from transmitted signals for tracking, position determination, and timing; and measuring the Radio Frequency (RF) emission or reflection from celestial bodies.
Basically, it connects low-earth-orbiting satellites, the International Space Station, and Earth. But these satellites have already existed for longer than they were intended to, and by the early 2020s, they’ll need to be replaced with a new infrastructure. That could look like … anything, pretty much. Either ground- or spaced-based systems could be integrated, as long as they communicate effectively. (And as long as they’re cheap, flexible, and backward-compatible with the current system. The list of necessities is pretty extensive.)
If you’ve got an idea, send it NASA’s way!
NOTE: This is not a request for proposal, quotation, or invitation for bid notice and is intended for information and planning purposes only. NASA does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this RFI. However, NASA may consider issuing formal solicitations at a later date.
So, you know, just keep this in the back of your head for now.