| CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., July 23
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., July 23 In what may be the
ultimate in long-distance telephone service, NASA on Wednesday
put out a call for a commercially owned and operated satellite
network on Mars.
The U.S. space agency needs to keep in touch with its
rovers, landers and orbiters that have been chipping away at
studies and experiments to learn if the planet most like Earth
in the solar system ever supported life.
The robotic probes, however, are useless if they cannot
relay their results, and the two communication satellites
currently in orbit are getting old. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft
was launched in 2001. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter followed in
The aging of NASA's Mars communications system comes as the
United States, Europe, Russia and India mount a fresh wave of
science campaigns, including two atmospheric probes slated to
arrive at Mars in September and two life-hunting rovers due to
launch in 2018 and 2020.
"There is a potential communications gap in the 2020s," NASA
wrote in its solicitation, which was posted on the agency's
"With that in mind, NASA is interested in exploring
alternative models to sustain and evolve the Mars relay
infrastructure," the solicitation said.
A commercially operated communications service could be less
expensive and more capable than what NASA could build and
operate on its own, while providing "appropriate
return-on-investment," to the service provider, NASA Mars
exploration program executive Lisa May said in a statement.
For now, NASA is just seeking ideas, with no firm plans or
funding to purchase commercial communication services on Mars.
Proposals are due by Aug. 25.
The solicitation is open to all organizations, including
U.S. industry, universities, nonprofit groups, NASA and other
government centers, as well as international organizations.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Ken Wills)