Originating Technology/NASA Contribution
Whether for scientific inquiry, weather forecasting, or public safety, the world relies upon the data gathered by satellite remote sensing. Some of NASA’s most valuable work is in its remote sensing capabilities—the ability to retrieve data acquired at great distances—affording a height and scope not available from the ground. NASA satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) monitor ocean health by taking large-scale pictures of phytoplankton blooms and measuring surface temperatures; snap photographs of full hurricanes from above, teaching researchers about how these giant storms form; and capture images of cloud formation and air pollution, all allowing researchers to further develop understanding of the planet’s health. NASA remote sensing satellites also monitor shifts in the Earth’s crust, analyze wind patterns around the world to develop efficient wind energy, help people around the world recover from natural disasters, and monitor diminishing sea ice levels.
Just as researchers are more heavily relying on this data from space to conduct their work, the instruments carried on satellites are getting more sophisticated and capable of capturing increasingly complex and accurate measurements. The satellites are covering larger areas, from farther away, and generating more and more valuable data.
The ground-based receivers for this wealth of satellite data have grown increasingly capable of handling greater bandwidth and higher power levels. They have also become less expensive, through a NASA research partnership, with the creation of a high-rate X-band data receiver system that is now in widespread use around the globe.
SeaSpace Corporation, of Poway, California, recognized a need for developing economical systems for receiving, processing, analyzing, and archiving incoming data from X-band remote sensing satellites, as they already provided similar systems for L- and S-band satellites. This need was one experienced throughout the world, as people became more reliant upon high-resolution satellite data. This was especially true within NASA, where the Space Agency could save millions of dollars by having available commercial providers of low-cost satellite data receivers accommodate its remote sensing program needs.
The company approached NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with proposals for a two-part research project to create such a system and was granted funding under two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts, a Phase I and follow-on Phase II. SeaSpace proposed that its reception and processing systems could reduce the cost of satellite ground tracking by at least a factor of 10, and that the profits from its commercial sales would lead to even more enhancements to the receiver systems, extending applications to land-use management, marine pollution tracking, polar science operations, and ultimately, widespread commercial adoption of its product.
SeaSpace engineers were already pioneers in the field of ground-based direct reception stations, and under the NASA SBIR projects, they developed both new hardware and software to help with the acquisition of satellite data. The company was already working with the nearby San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and so applied its radio frequency equipment to an existing Scripps antenna platform to capture high-rate data from EOS-1 (an Earth-observing satellite). SeaSpace also designed and implemented the software necessary to control the antenna frame and process the data, which was later added to their existing TeraScan software product. This proved the viability of the ground-based antenna for receiving X-band.