The Critical Link

Space relay services: Modernizing connectivity for NASA, government missions


NASA has taken a giant leap forward in its modernization goals, and Telesat Government Services aims to play a significant role in the mission objectives. We recently announced a US$30.65 million Funded Space Act Agreement with the agency as a partner for its Communications Services Project (CSP).

NASA plans to decommission its owned and operated Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system in the coming years. The agency’s CSP will evaluate commercial SATCOM networks’ feasibility to reliably support future near-Earth missions.

This has significant implications for the public sector; we are not just augmenting NASA’s system, we are innovating for them. By adopting commercial services such as Telesat Lightspeed, the agency can more effectively and cost-efficiently support future NASA missions — at speed and scale.

What is space-to-space high data rate connectivity?

The Telesat Lightspeed global network is comprised of state-of-the-art, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that are seamlessly integrated with on-the-ground data networks. Each satellite will have four optical laser links — front, back, right, and left — to connect in-plane and adjacent satellites, plus onboard data processing rather than on the ground. These capabilities create a mesh network in space, with unprecedented flexibility — and speed — for routing data across the world.

This connectivity model offers incredible opportunities for all kinds of commercial organizations and government agencies. Many Earth observation and environmental monitoring satellites are not able to relay data traffic in real time. They collect information but must wait until the satellite passes over an operations center to downlink the data to Earth.

By comparison, our space relay model allows us to deliver collected data in real time from the monitoring satellite to the Telesat Lightspeed constellation to its final destination. That data travels to the Telesat Lightspeed network via two types of links: radio frequency (RF) or optical inter-satellite link (OISL). Smaller satellites that don’t have the satellite bus space or power required to support OISL terminals can leverage high-throughput Ka-band RF links to transmit data to the Telesat Lightspeed network. 

Our accelerated data relay means that organizations can rapidly gather and process data for faster decision making and insights.

In addition, optically-linked LEO satellites, which are native to Telesat Lightspeed, provide resilient, assured space-to-space connectivity for manned and unmanned space missions. For example, we offer hosted satellite connectivity where we fly an agency’s or organization’s satellite for them within our constellation. It’s a fully managed, flight operations and space relay service combined.

Telesat Government Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of Telesat, provides a very low latency, virtual-fiber communications network that integrates seamlessly into terrestrial networks. Telesat Lightspeed offers a pool of managed connectivity services with a great deal of flexibility. For example, organizations or agencies can choose capacity- or volume-based connections to their user terminals. They can also opt for committed communications capacity with guaranteed service level agreements or burst-size options. In addition, Telesat Lightspeed can land traffic at Telesat points of presence throughout the world or at private access stations to enable sovereign control of data.

Multiple user benefits

Government organizations can benefit from managed commercial satcom because it’s so flexible and customizable. Among the top advantages is the ability to reduce costs. Budget limitations can make it challenging to modernize existing systems. Space-to-space managed data network connectivity is a scalable, cost-effective strategy where organizations can use as much or as little capacity as they need.

Another significant benefit is that users retain control over privacy and security. Telesat Lightspeed provides dedicated connectivity services with a defense-in-depth architecture. Telesat Lightspeed is a secure and resilient, self-healing mesh network with policy-based routing for private access. The agency or organization maintains control and can configure and manage their own terminals, traffic prioritization and capacity.

In addition, Telesat Lightspeed is NSA-certified and compliant with NIST SP 800-53, Level 2 of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC), as well as security architecture requirements for federal agencies.

Space relay use cases

There are numerous opportunities for managed space-to-space data connectivity. Here are a few:

  • Environmental patterns and conditions. Similar to how the NOAA is starting to use satellite systems to track weather patterns rather than traditional GPS, LEO satellites can rapidly and accurately do the same. Telesat Lightspeed satellites have a bird’s-eye view of Earth and can easily transmit weather, atmospheric, and climate-change data in real time for fast-changing conditions for commercial and government operations.
  • Territorial observations. It can be challenging to consistently monitor rural or difficult-to reach land or waters to ensure defense, security and ongoing operations. For example, oil-and-gas rigs and remote scientific outposts can benefit from reliable, robust connectivity services via LEO satellites. In addition, space relay accelerates the OODA (observe, orient, detect, act) loop for faster military and strategic defense decision making.
  • Communications services. Telesat Lightspeed can provide high-speed connectivity links for spacecraft missions, such as manned crews traveling to and from the International Space Station

Learn more about the NASA partnership with Telesat Lightspeed.

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