Recently, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) testbed reached some important milestones. Checkout activities were completed on the testbed, establishing the status and health of the payload—including the antenna systems and software on each of three software-defined radios (SDRs). The SCaN testbed is an integrated communications laboratory facility. Using a new generation of SDR technology, it allows researchers to develop, test, and demonstrate advanced communications, networking, and navigation technologies in space.

This reconfigurable in-orbit laboratory offers broad participation to NASA, other government agencies, industry, and academia. Its radio communication technology is based on a new standard, which enables radio characteristics and functionality to be changed simply by altering the software.

Researchers expect the test bed to operate aboard the space station for as long as six years. Initial experiments include advancing S-band and Ka-band SDR technology and enhancing the capabilities of existing communications paths—especially in the Ka-band. An experiment with NASA’s latest Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS)-K will be the first in-orbit test and demonstration of a TDRS spacecraft acquiring and successfully auto-tracking a Ka-band user in low-Earth orbit.

These experiments will contribute data to the Space Telecommunications Radio Standard Compliant repository. They also will enable future hardware platforms to use common, reusable software modules to reduce development time and costs. NASA continues to solicit proposals to participate in the development, integration, and in-orbit execution of research and technology experiments and demonstrations using the testbed. The first users outside NASA are expected to demonstrate experiments on the SCaN testbed by 2014.