Existing commercial space communications systems evolved from high risk technology developed and tested in orbit by NASA in the 1960s and 1970s. The technology base thus provided enabled the U.S. telecommunications industry to lead the way in developing, manufacturing and operating commercial communications satellites, with a resultant benefit to the U.S. economy.
Today, as information technologies grow explosively, there is need for a new infusion of space communications technology to meet requirements for new types of space communications and data transfer, and to allow more efficient use of orbit and spectrum resources. Responding to that need, NASA is demonstrating new technologies with the innovative Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) shown in below.
A large satellite weighing more than 15 tons and stretching 47 feet across the width of its solar array, ACTS operates in the Ka-band, a little used portion of the radio frequency spectrum; its onboard transponders allow very high data transmission rates. ACTS also features significant capacity gain through use of multiple hop- ping beam antenna systems, which generate message-carrying spot beams, each focused on a narrow Earth region as opposed to the broad beams generated by earlier satellites. Other advanced technologies include on-board digital processing and storage/switching of satellite signals. ACTS completed its second year in orbit on September 12,1995. During that time, more than 80 organizations logged an estimated 16,000 hours performing field trials, such as testing the spot beams that enable communications with small, low-cost Earth stations, or ACTS' on-demand digital services that allow users to pay for bandwidth only when needed. These and other ACTS technologies combine to offer potential for significant cost reductions that would make practicable such new services as remote medical imaging diagnostics, global personal communications, real-time TV transmission to airliners, direct transmission of image data to battlefield commanders, interconnection of distantly-located supercomputers, and high-speed off ramps for the National Information Infrastructure. ACTS was built for NASA by Martin Marietta Astro Space, East Windsor, New Jersey, under the management of Lewis Research Center.