Mars is underserved

2 August 2014 by Steve Blum
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NASA is asking for private sector ideas to upgrade broadband infrastructure on Mars. Right now, there’s a 2 Mbps link between Earth and Mars orbit, and 500 Kbps between orbit and rovers on the surface. More bandwidth is expected to arrive in orbit in the next few years, but not enough to keep up with planned surface missions. So NASA has issued a request for information, in the hopes of finding a partner who can offer a sustainable solution

The RFI details possible new business models that would involve NASA contracting to purchase services from a commercial service provider, which would own and operate one or more communication relay orbiters. The solicitation is open to all types of organizations including U.S. industry, universities, nonprofits, NASA centers, and federally funded research and development centers, in addition to U.S. government and international organizations.

The press release mentions a recent experiment that achieved a 622 Mbps link between Earth and the Moon using a laser, which offers a clue to NASA’s backhaul bandwidth expectations.

It’s easy to gripe about the federal government spending money upgrading Martian broadband infrastructure while so many U.S. homes lack access to even the 500 Kbps that’s currently available on the Red Planet. But that’s a cheap shot and completely misplaced. Real world problems inspire practical solutions, regardless of the planet.

I can’t think of a tougher telecoms problem than finding a cost effective way of building a reliable link running at hundreds of megabits, if not a gigabit, between Earth and Mars. The technology that makes it possible will do even more here at home.