NASA Glenn Research Center and Harris Corporation were inducted into the Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame for the innovative Ka-band Software-defined Radio (SDR) on March 9, 2019. The induction ceremony, luncheon, and cocktail reception were held during the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The NASA/Harris Ka-band SDR is the first reconfigurable SDR operating in Ka-band frequencies. “The technology is a true game-changer,” says Harris Senior Manager Richard Lilley, one of the recognized technology contributors. “Unlike traditional radios that have hardware components, SDRs rely upon software. As a result, they can be easily adapted to changing radio protocols, which happens a lot for applications like cell phone services and military communications.” For space applications, this is particularly advantageous, as operators can reconfigure and reprogram the SDR from a computer on Earth for nearly instantaneous results.

“Then because our SDR operates in Ka-band frequencies, it enables significantly higher-bandwidth communications and faster data transmission rates than Ku-band or other commonly used frequency ranges,” Lilley adds.  “We are able to transmit data at rates from 2-10 gigabytes per second.” 

NASA and Harris developed the Ka-band SDR in a 50/50 cost-share partnership. The SDR was installed on the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed aboard an external pallet on the International Space Station in 2012. Since then, it has proven highly successful performing experiments to advance higher order bandwidth-efficient modulation techniques, reducing risks of Ka-band SDRs on other space missions, and enabling future mission capabilities.

Harris has since developed commercial applications for the technology. The reconfigurable multimission payload called Harris AppSTAR™ has been deployed on a variety of satellites, including as a hosted payload platform for the Iridium NEXT constellation. This platform hosts Aireon’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) payload, the world’s first space-based global air traffic surveillance service, and the payload that enables the world’s lowest-latency ship tracking service, exactEarth’s exactViewRT, which monitors automated information system signals and can be reconfigured for any VHF marine band channel. Harris has also adapted the technology for small satellites and is demonstrating on-orbit mission reprogramming capability for the company’s own 6U cubesat, HSAT.

In addition to Lilley, Harris Engineer Jeffery Anderson and Program Manager Kevin Moran were honored for their program leadership of the Ka-band SDR. The Space Technology Hall of Fame was created in 1988 to recognize life-changing technologies emerging from global space programs; honor the scientists, engineers and innovators responsible; and communicate to the public the importance of these technologies as a return on investment in space exploration.