During FY 1996, NASA established bilateral interagency tracking, communications, and operations panels (ITCOP's) with other international space agencies. The ITCOP's promote the cost-effective use and exchange of NASA and other space agency assets, resources, and capabilities necessary to the success of space flight missions being carried out by either agency. This past year, NASA built on the success of the previously established ITCOP's with ESA and NASDA and established new panels with the Russian, French, and German space agencies.
In April 1996, a tri-agency team representing NASA, DoD, and NOAA completed a study chartered by the Aeronautics and Astronautics Coordinating Board to examine the potential for increased cooperation among the three agencies. One of the integrated product teams (IPT's) established under this charter addressed the subject of satellite telemetry, tracking, and commanding. Aside from recommendations to modify NOAA's Alaskan ground station for DoD compatibility and consolidate some control center activities, the IPT stressed the need for consolidation and standardization. The IPT offered several initiatives, including the joint development of a space-qualified GPS receiver, increased reliance on commercial standards, and coordinated interagency use of the radio frequency spectrum. A multi-agency architecture development team, led by the DoD Space Architect, began making use of the IPT study results, incorporating them into the broad assessment of long-term alternatives of satellite operations and control capabilities. Another IPT that dealt with space communications was the Space Launch Activities IPT. It also recommended consolidation and standardization among launch ranges and supporting stations, and it recommended increased usage of TDRSS and GPS to reduce costs. In a related development, TDRSS began providing launch support services to DoD's Titan Centaur launches.
The Space Communications Advanced Development Program accomplished several enhancements of telecommunications services. Specifically, program personnel successfully demonstrated the first two-way optical communications between a satellite in geosynchronous orbit and a ground-based terminal. This offered a significantly faster transfer of data from the spacecraft to the researcher than previous methods.
Engineers also modified spacecraft and ground systems to operate at very high frequencies to avoid interference and overcrowding in the lower bands. In addition, NASA personnel successfully demonstrated new encoding techniques, which almost doubled the error-free communications transmission rate.