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Solicitation Number: NNH14ZDA010L
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Office: Headquarters
Location: Office of Procurement (HQ)
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Sources Sought
Added: Jul 23, 2014 2:44 pm
NASA is seeking information regarding potential commercialization options for the provision of Mars telecommunications proximity link services. The focus of the Request For Information (RFI) is to explore new business models for how NASA might sustain Mars relay infrastructure, consisting of orbiters capable of providing standardized telecommunication services for rovers and landers on the martian surface, in the martian atmosphere, or in Mars orbit. NASA will use information gathered through this RFI to inform its future Mars exploration strategies.

In accordance with FAR 15.201 (e), the information requested is for planning purposes only and is not intended to bind the Government.


Mars landers and rovers are highly constrained in mass, volume, and power. One consequence of these constraints is a significant limitation in the data rates and data volumes that can be communicated on the direct link between the Mars surface spacecraft and Earth. For instance, at large Earth-Mars distances, the Curiosity rovers X-band direct-to-Earth (DTE) link operates at data rates of less than 500 bps when communicating to a Deep Space Network 34m antenna. Such data rates are not sufficient to support typical surface exploration paradigms.

To address this limitation in DTE bandwidth, the Mars Exploration Program (MEP) has employed a strategy of including a proximity-link telecommunication relay payload on each of its Mars science orbiters [1]. Currently, operating in the UHF band (390450 MHz), these relay payloads establish links with landers and rovers on the surface as they fly overhead, supporting very high-rate, energy-efficient links between orbiter and lander. The orbiters, with much larger high-gain antennas and higher power transmitters, can then take on the job of communicating on the long-haul link back to Earth.

Currently, NASA has two relay orbiters in operations at Mars: the Odyssey spacecraft, launched in 2001, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, launched in 2005. These orbiters enable communication links from the Curiosity rover operating at rates of up to 2 Mb/s, and data volumes averaging over 500 Mb/sol (or martian day) [2]. Similar relay support has been provided to the prior Spirit rover and Phoenix lander missions and continues to be provided to the Opportunity rover. This Mars relay strategy has been extremely successful in providing the science and engineering data returned from the martian surface over the past decade.

This approach will continue with the arrival of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft at the red planet on September 21, 2014, and the European Space Agencys ExoMars/Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016. Each orbiter carries a NASA-provided Electra relay payload. However, NASAs current Mars relay infrastructure is aging, and there is a potential communications gap in the 2020s. With that in mind, NASA is interested in exploring alternative models to sustain and evolve the Mars relay infrastructure. The current strategy has been cost effective to date, because NASA has launched science orbiters to Mars on a steady cadence; the cost of the relay infrastructure has effectively been limited to the incremental cost of adding a relay payload to them. However, there are no NASA Mars science orbiters currently manifested beyond MAVEN, creating a need to identify cost-effective options for ensuring continuity of reliable, high-performance telecommunications and navigation relay services.

With this RFI, NASA seeks options for Mars data relay in which NASA would purchase relay services from a commercial service provider to support users at Mars, including landers and rovers and, potentially, aerobots and orbiters. In this model, the commercial provider would own and operate relay orbiter(s), and NASA would contract to purchase services over some period of time. In exploring this model, NASA encourages innovative ideas for cost-effective approaches that provide backward-compatible UHF relay services for existing landers, as well as significantly improved performance for future exploration activities. One example is deploying optical communications for Mars proximity operations and/or deep-space communications. Recently, NASA successfully demonstrated optical communications from the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft at the Moon to Earth, with download rates of 622 megabits per second (Mbps). It also demonstrated an error-free data upload rate of 20 Mbps transmitted from the primary ground station in New Mexico to the spacecraft orbiting the Moon. NASA also welcomes synergies with relay infrastructure that might be deployed in support of other Mars commercial objectives.

Requested Information

The response to this RFI will be in the form of a PDF document that is uploaded through NASA's NSPIRES system (see instructions below). Each response shall not exceed ten pages in length. Any individual or institution may respond to this RFI, and there is no limit on the number of responses that an individual or institution may submit.

The response should contain the following information:

-- Name of submitter and contact information (institutional affiliation, E-mail address).

-- Description of a recommended business model for commercialization of Mars relay services, offering advantages to NASA, while also providing appropriate return-on-investment to the service provider. Elements of this model should address the timeline of investments by the service provider for development of service capability and any corresponding timeline of service payments by NASA. Specifically, can the service provider fully fund the implementation and delivery of the service-providing orbiter(s) to Mars in return for service fees collected during the operational phase, or would NASA be required to subsidize the implementation cost?

-- High-level specifications of the envisioned commercialized relay services, including comparison to current Odyssey and MRO relay capabilities.

-- High-level description of the technical approach to delivering these service capabilities. Key aspects of the technical approach include number of spacecraft, launch concepts, spacecraft design lifetime, orbit characteristics, proximity link, and deep space link telecommunication system design. Also indicate when services might be available on orbit.

-- Identification of potential synergies with other commercial Mars interests that could offer opportunities for cost-sharing efficiencies.

NASA recognizes the need to protect proprietary information and does not intend to broadly disseminate the RFI responses. RFI responses should clearly mark proprietary information.

This RFI is open to all types of organizations, including U.S. industry, universities, nonprofit organizations, NASA Centers, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, other U.S. Government agencies, and international organizations.

It is emphasized that this RFI is for planning and information purposes only and is NOT to be construed as a commitment by the Government to enter into a contractual agreement, nor will the Government pay for information solicited. If NASA decides to proceed with a new procurement or announcement, we will synopsize our intent on FedBizOpps.

No solicitation exists; therefore, do not request a copy of the solicitation. If a solicitation is released, it will be synopsized in FedBizOpps and on the NASA Acquisition Internet Service. It is the interested partys responsibility to monitor these sites for the release of any solicitation or synopsis.

All questions about the RFI shall be directed by E-mail to the Point of Contact listed below.


[1] Relay Communications for Mars Exploration, C. Edwards, International Journal of Satellite Communications and Networking, 25, 111-145, 2007. [2] Relay Support for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, C. Edwards, et al., IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, March 2-9, 2013.


All responses to this RFI must be submitted in electronic form via NSPIRES, the NASA online announcement data management system, located at . For this RFI, a response submission will take the form of a Notice of Intent (NOI) within NSPIRES. The RFI response itself MUST be a PDF-formatted document that is attached (uploaded) to the NSPIRES system. You must register with NSPIRES to submit a RFI response. See registration instructions at (select "Getting an account"). Neither an institutional registration, nor an institution affiliation is required to respond to this RFI.

1. Log in to your account at 2. Select "Proposals/NOIs" from your account page. 3. Select "Create NOI" from your proposals page. 4. Click "Continue" on the next page. 5. Select "Request for Information: NNH14ZDA010L (Commercial Mars Telecommunication Relay Services)" from the bulleted list of announcements. 6. Click "Continue". 7. Enter RFI response title ("NOI title" field will be shown). 8. Select "do not link at this time" for submitting organization page. 9. Click "Save" on next page. 10. It is not necessary to complete any of the "NOI Details"; all requested information should be included in the attached PDF document. Information that is entered into "NOI Details" but not included in the attached PDF document will not be considered. 11. Prepare your RFI response offline and save as a PDF document (note NSPIRES instructions on PDF formats). The response document must include the respondent's Name, institution, and E-mail address so the file is self-contained. File names format should be "PI Last Name - First Name - Number - RFI". "Number" will be used to distinguish multiple responses from the same PI. The response should not exceed ten pages in length. 12. To attach (upload) your PDF document: a. Click "add" under NOI attachments section; b. Select "Proposal Document" from the drop down list; c. Browse to attach your PDF file; d. Select "Upload"; e. Click "OK"; f. Your RFI document has been uploaded to NSPIRES. 13. Click Submit NOI button. NOTE that this does not complete the submission process. 14. Ignore any warnings about incomplete NOI elements. Ensure that your NOI document is attached and click "Continue". 15. Click "Submit". This will take you to the NOI submission confirmation page, which provides you with the NOI/RFI number for your records.

Please note: You may delete and replace form fields and uploaded documents any time before the submission deadline. However, once your RFI is submitted, it cannot be deleted.

Point of Contact

Questions concerning this Request for Information should be submitted in writing and addressed to the Point of Contact below. Any E-mail correspondence should have the subject line: Commercial Mars Telecommunication Relay Services.

Ms. Lisa May Lead Program Executive, Mars Exploration Program

Address: Science Mission Directorate NASA Headquarters 300 E Street SW Washington, DC 20546

E-mail: Phone: 202-358-2411 Fax: 202-358-3097

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771
Lisa May, Lead Program Executive Mars Exploration Program, Phone 202-358-2411, Fax 202-358-3097, Email

Lisa May