Planetary Radio • Nov 10, 2021

Spacecraft communications and navigation with Badri Younes

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Badri younes 08 2019

Badri Younes

NASA Deputy Associate Administrator and SCaN Program Manager

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Badri Younes says that a spacecraft that can’t communicate or find its way is worthless. He leads SCaN, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program, which manages resources like the agency’s Deep Space Network. SCaN is also preparing for a future that relies on optical communication and possibly even quantum computing. Younes takes us on an audio tour of SCaN’s work that extends beyond our solar system.

Canberra Complex by Night
Canberra Complex by Night The Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex is one of three Deep Space Network facilities. Each of the facilities is located approximately 120 degrees of longitude apart so that at least one station is able to downlink and uplink signals to spacecraft at all times.Image: NASA
Artist concept of first TDRS satellite
Artist concept of first TDRS satellite The Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) constellation consists of a number of geosynchronous (satellites (first generation, second generation and third generation satellites) distributed over the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. They provide near continuous bent pipe information relay services to many missions.Image: NASA
Laser Communications Relay Demonstration
Laser Communications Relay Demonstration The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will be NASA's first two-way optical communications relay satellite that will demonstrate the benefits of optical technologies, such as higher data transmission and less size, weight, and power requirements. LCRD will also validate the use of optical relays, which could be used for Mars one day.Image: NASA

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Mat Kaplan: Staying in touch and finding your way in space, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Badri Younes says a spacecraft that can't communicate or that doesn't know where it is and where it's going isn't much good to anyone. He should know. Badri is a NASA deputy associate administrator and the program manager of SCaN, Spacecraft Communications and Navigation. Wait till you hear about some of the amazing networks and technologies that SCaN is working with, and that every NASA spacecraft and many others depend on.

Mat Kaplan: SCaN is also working on the bleeding edge of technology, including the wild and crazy field of quantum entanglement. I'm always happy to welcome back Bruce Betts. This time, his What's Up segment will feature four haiku inspired by our light sail, solar sail. You know the problem with Apple podcasts? I can hardly ever tell who has left us a nice review. Who the heck is Wendy Surf, and black dog forever, and Dr. Double E? I just want to say thank you. I hope you'll consider joining them. It only takes a minute, but it's the easiest and cheapest thing you can do to give Planetary Radio a boost.

Mat Kaplan: You'll hear me mention to Badri Younes that we expected astronauts to return from the International Space Station. Well, it happened according to plan. They rode Crew Dragon Endeavor to a safe splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. That was crew two. The launch of crew three is imminent, as we published this week's show. Over in the Down Lake, you can learn how to help Rovers on Mars. NASA needs citizen scientists, who can train an algorithm that will enable Curiosity, the Mars science laboratory, to do a better job of finding its way across the red planet. The opportunity is called AI4Mars, and you can learn about it in the November 5th edition of our newsletter at

Mat Kaplan: While you're there, you can lose yourself in a dying, red giant star. The Hubble image is simply beautiful. You've probably heard about the Deep Space Network, that globe, spanning system of giant dishes that allows us to receive data from across the solar system. But what about the Near Space Network, and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, and the laser communications relay demonstration, the deep space atomic clock, or NASA's Commercial Communications Services Division? I could go on, but I'd be cutting into the time we have for the person, who leads these and other efforts.

Mat Kaplan: Badri Younes is a world renowned expert in telecommunications. As you'll hear, his passion for his work extends far beyond the networks and technologies he manages. He couldn't wait to tell me about the outreach work SCaN conducts, especially for students and young professionals. You'll hear him mention the NTIA, that's the National Telecommunications and Information Administration here in the US. Badri Younes, thank you very much for joining us on Planetary Radio. I've been told for ages that I should really get you as a guest on the show because of the work of the part of NASA, SCaN, that you lead, which I hope we're going to be talking about many facets of over the next few minutes. Thanks for joining us.

Badri Younes: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me. Definitely the things we do and it is so critical to enable NASA, it's mission objective. The technology that we do also is so critical to the countries advance from a national security perspective, as well as national economic perspective.

Mat Kaplan: So much of the work of your part of NASA, SCaN, underlies, everything else that we talk about on Planetary Radio, at least everything that happens in space that we talk about. I'll start with the one that maybe is the best known by the general public.

Mat Kaplan: And that's the DSN, the Deep Space Network, which never fails to amaze those of us who see what it does, as it communicates with spacecraft as far away as Voyager. But with so many spacecraft coordinating all of the exchange of data with spacecraft really now across the solar system, it's quite an operation.

Badri Younes: Yeah, we have a very extensive and world class operation support admissions, whether they are in deep space or in the near earth environment. For deep space, we have a set of ground stations distributed around the globe. We have three of them. Two of them are in the upper hemisphere and one in the lower hemisphere, they are our eyes and ears. They look deep into space, to the edge of the solar system and beyond. You mentioned Voyager one and Voyager two, they have already crisscrossed the boundaries of our solar system. They are tens of billions of miles away and we are still communicating with them.

Badri Younes: We have different sets of antennas, varying in size between 34 and 70 meters. The 70 meter are so huge. These are our Eiffel Towers. They have been around for decades, provided support to all missions that have crisscrossed the heaven. For the near earth, we have two different networks. One of them relies on direct transmissions to the ground. One relies on using space at a data relaying point, where missions will instead of sending the data directly to the ground, because they may not be in view of the ground station.

Badri Younes: They send it to a point way up in space. That point in space will in turn, relay the data back to a specific point on earth.

Mat Kaplan: Are you talking about TDRS, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites?

Badri Younes: Exactly. The concept of TDRS came about in the early '70s. Remember when we were supporting the Apollos, we had so many stations, ground stations distributed around the globe? Many of them are in countries where the geopolitical situation does not allow us to go there anymore. Even back then, we had a lot of problems. Up to 30 stations were distributed on land and in water to provide support to the Apollo mission. And even with that, we could not exceed the 30% support for that mission.

Badri Younes: So we came up with a concept. Instead of relying on direct earth communications, let's have these points in space, where they have everything underneath the synchronous arc in view. You can provide near real-time communication anywhere, and anytime, 100% of the time. And that's where the concept of TDRS came about. And it helped advance the technology, not only for NASA and enabled this near real-time support to all our human space flight missions, but also advance the technology across the industry to include the commercial industry.

Mat Kaplan: I remember because I'm old enough when the first TDRS satellite was put above the earth. And now, I read that you are on what, the third generation of these relays?

Badri Younes: Exactly. That TDRS constellation varies in generation. The early generation that are the TDRS's that we fielded in the '80s. Then the second generation we fielded in the early 2000s, and most recently we completed the third generation where the last TDRS we launched was in 2017. With that, we completed NASA's investment in Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

Badri Younes: When we started TDRS, we were the only game in town. The commercial industry has not evolved to the point that could meet our unique requirements. We see what's happening in the industry now. We are very optimistic about meeting and our needs and requirements by commercializing all of these services.

Mat Kaplan: This is similar to what we see in other areas of NASA that get more attention, probably like the commercial crew program. We're going to see some astronauts coming home possibly today, as you and I speak on Monday the 8th, and the Commercial Lunar Payload System. So you're basically looking to follow that model.

Badri Younes: Exactly. And really, we can consider this as key as one of our driving requirements is to foster an affordable and grow in US space industry. For that, we are going after commercial capabilities to leverage that into our operation for the purpose of increasing efficiency and robustness of communication. This will move us out of the routine operation to make us focus on the next generation. So we are working on the transformational technology that will allow us and will allow the industry to keep on moving forward, meeting the ever growing appetite of the consumer for more bandwidth and more capacity.

Badri Younes: We are working now with a regulator to ensure that the regulatory framework addresses this change in paradigm. We are moving away from the bifurcated situation before where you had government system and commercial system. We are trying to build the bridges between the two communities, if not merging the two. Our main objective, essentially within SCaN, is to focus on building this interoperable and resilient space and ground communication and navigation infrastructure. We see our appetite for data, and for capacity, and for bandwidth growing because we always want more and more.

Badri Younes: So per our goal here is to enable that thing at the same time, making it more robust and secure while ensuring that the cost remain affordable for all of our mission. That's the human space flight, as well as the robotic missions.

Mat Kaplan: There's a question that just occurred to me and I don't know if you have a good answer for this. But is there a way to characterize the amount of data, the number of bits that SCaN facilitates across the systems that you coordinate, like TDRS, like the Deep Space Network? We're talking about a lot of bits here, aren't we?

Badri Younes: Yeah. We are talking tens of terabits, if not terabytes per day but definitely- [crosstalk 00:11:36]

Mat Kaplan: Oh, per day?

Badri Younes: Per day.

Mat Kaplan: Gosh.

Badri Younes: So when you talk about terabytes per day, usually you look at the book. How many bytes are in a book? There are a million. Then you are talking a million books worth of data that go through our system on a daily basis.

Mat Kaplan: Wow.

Badri Younes: I don't know. I've never tried to quantify the content of the Library of Congress in terms of byte. But if I have to do that, probably we are at that level on a daily basis.

Mat Kaplan: My God. Okay. I'm glad I asked. Before we leave TDRS, I also want to mention that anybody who goes to the SCaN website and looks up TDRS can find a paper model of a TDRS satellite that can be printed, and cut out, and built by a young person out there. We'll put a link up to your website on this week's show page at

Mat Kaplan: But I bring it up because I'm hoping that before we finish the conversation, we can talk about other ways that you are bringing young people into the work of SCaN, but let's go onto talking about the next brilliant step in space communication. Now, I do mean brilliant, by the way.

Badri Younes: Can I mention something about this cutout?

Mat Kaplan: Sure.

Badri Younes: One of the critical functions that really I value so much is our outreach program, getting as early as possible to our youth, and trying to sensitize them to the value of science, and technology, and mathematics, and even engineering, and even art. Everything completes everything in the build up of the space story.

Badri Younes: We work with the youth to sensitize them to that and to really to ensure that they see things from our perspective to help them grow as people, and also later on, potentially professionally as they go to college and beyond in helping them decide on what discipline they need to pursue. And we have a very strong program within SCaN, as well as the agency, and very good team objectives. And we are all working collectively to have our youth benefit from that program.

Mat Kaplan: Well, your colleague, Al Feinberg, who connected the two of us, told me that if I mentioned your work with young people, that you would definitely want to pursue that. I was going to save more of this to the end of the conversation, but let's talk about it now. In the programs that you offer I know you have internships.

Badri Younes: Yep.

Mat Kaplan: And apparently, these offer a lot of great, real world experience. Does it start at the undergraduate level or even younger than that?

Badri Younes: Even much younger. I take people from high school all the way to post-graduate level and try to sensitize them to some of the critical disciplines that are needed in the communication domain, as well as other scientific domain. So much of the science, and the technology and the things we do are aligned with our objective at the enabling capability that we see critical for the agency to grow.

Badri Younes: We see ourselves as an enabling entity. If you don't have space communication, navigation, what else do you have? Just big, expensive pieces of I don't know what in space. Communication is critical. We see that in today's world everything is reliant on information, so communication is an integral part of the information industry. And if you don't communicate, the information is worthless.

Mat Kaplan: Yes. Yes.

Badri Younes: So we work very hard to sensitize these folks and to give them a place where they can grow. Before the summer intern program that I established was in SCaN, we used to have something, the Fresh Out Initiative. I used to take a student right, fresh out of school and put them in our labs for about three years to do nothing else but to work behind the bench. They needed that experience. Very often, they graduate from school and they don't get their hands dirty. I wanted them to learn how to fail and how to recover. What else may happen behind the bench?

Mat Kaplan: Teach them how to solder, while you're at it.

Badri Younes: Exactly. To get the pleasure of making things happen. You don't graduate students like this from the universities. They get the theoretical work and very often, many universities fail to give them the practical, the hands-on things. These are, as I say, the icing on my cake. The outreach program, where we go to high schools, even to elementary schools, to give presentation on the value of team, trying to sensitize student to these disciplines. Also, the summer intern, we take these young students from college, even from high school, and we stay with them until they graduate, and we keep track of them.

Badri Younes: We help them, we mentor them, and we give them the behind the bench experience. My God, I'm so fascinated by this internet generation. When we grew up, we were working with the slide and rule. There was no internet. Back then, remember when we were growing up, if we needed something we had to go to the local library. Very often, we'll go to the library, we look for the book, and the book has been borrowed by someone else, and you have to wait a month.

Mat Kaplan: So true.

Badri Younes: So the internet generation has a wealth of information. They need us to really try to provide them a focus, and to help them how to use this information to better themselves, and to better society around them.

Mat Kaplan: And I would only add, look at how you and I are talking to each other right now? We can see each other, even if the audience can't see us. But here we are, having a real-time, low latency conversation- [crosstalk 00:17:57]

Badri Younes: Exactly.

Mat Kaplan: ... Via the internet.

Badri Younes: That adds to the value of communication, by the way. That's what we do for- [crosstalk 00:18:04]

Badri Younes: Absolutely. That's why we have the cameras turned on. There's one other program that I got to mention because I think it goes back to even before I started doing Planetary Radio, which was 19 years ago, but it was already at this Planetary Society. I went out to Apple Valley in Southern California because there was a big event going on. I took my video camera and I talked to some kids, who were sitting behind consoles, actually working with dishes at Goldstone, one of your three. Deep Space Network facilities, of course. The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Program and I made this feature, like I said, many years ago.

Badri Younes: It wasn't until I started preparing for this show that I saw that you have also a visitor center, not at Goldstone, but in Barstow, the nearby desert town, where everybody stops on the way to Las Vegas to get a hamburger or something. There's a Harvey House there, which if anybody wants to see an interesting, old movie it's called the Harvey Girls with Judy Garland. One of the Harvey House's has now been repurposed, in part by you as a visitor center. I'm told that these programs for these kids out there in the desert, that continues as well.

Badri Younes: Yeah. And what you were talking about is our gather program, where we take some of our antenna dishes, and we repurpose them to support radio astronomy. And we work with universities and other students to have access and to do their research in this area.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. These are elementary school kids.

Badri Younes: Yeah. Yeah. And even at the elementary school level, trying to sensitize them to the value of space science to include radio astronomy. This program is still going on and is a strong program that we have. At every location where we have a ground station, we have a visitor center. A way that we pay back the community that hosts our ground station to pay them back with the activities that can help them and help their children to grow.

Badri Younes: Wherever we go, they embrace, they accept our presence. They provide us the support. This aspect of our activity does complete our program. I'm one of those who thinks that scientific discoveries and information have no value, unless you communicate it to the general public. Establishing these visitor centers is one way where we can communicate all of the achievement that NASA does. Not only NASA, other space agencies. And all of the investigation in space are communicated in a way that's acceptable to our general public.

Mat Kaplan: Well, we are very much with you on that, as you might imagine, since we're the Planetary Society and our leader is in that business of communicating science. Let me turn back now to those transformational technologies that you hinted at. One of them, I called it brilliant.

Mat Kaplan: It was a little pun because we're talking about optical or laser communication, which I believe SCaN is doing a lot of work with. Do you see optical as the next great leap in getting information across the solar system and from orbit down to earth and up again?

Badri Younes: Definitely. We have been evolving. We started in the UHF. We moved into the S-band, we moved into the K-band. The demand for spectrum has become so, so high it's growing exponentially. You need more and more bandwidth that definitely the only other option is to keep on moving up in spectrum. However, we can take a quantum leap by going into something where the amount of spectrum is so huge and can meet the needs of our scientists, as well as the needs of our society, which is the optical domain.

Badri Younes: You have a huge bandwidth available to you and the implementation of the technology comes at a good price and a good swap value. The optical payload can provide you up to two orders of magnitude better performance or capability than the RF payload.

Mat Kaplan: Wow. So 100 times better. 100 times better than- [crosstalk 00:22:41]

Badri Younes: Exactly. Up to 100 times better. At the same time, much of the radio frequency is regulated and so many walls have been built between different communities. The optical domain has not been regulated. And to provide a common domain where all of these communities can interoperate, so it will allow for better sharing, better interoperability, better class support among a number of communities, be that the commercial community, the government community.

Badri Younes: Whether you are doing space research, whether you are doing earth observation, this is a common spectrum where they can all interoperate and share that information. You can trade that, in terms of data rate or in term of size and power. The swap value we call it.

Mat Kaplan: This also makes me think of something I was going to bring up, which is another part of SCaN's responsibilities. That is coordination with other agencies around the world. Because I'm an old broadcast person and I love the history of radio, and broadcast, and television, I was aware of a group called the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union.

Mat Kaplan: What I did not know is that the ITU has been around since 1865, when I don't know what they had to deal with other than telegraph. I guess you are a substantial part of our representation worldwide through the ITU to do the coordination that you were just talking about.

Badri Younes: Exactly. And we work with the international community to ensure that the spectrum... The spectrum is so critical for all activities, because that scientific observation, as well as communication, it's a finite quantity and it's shared amongst so many entities, and it doesn't have any border. When you send an RF signal, it crisscrosses the sky without recognizing the boundaries of any country. So we have the International Telecommunication Unit that regulates the usage of the spectrum and ensures that it's used properly and better coordination taken among members' states.

Badri Younes: They do that primarily and for the last so many years, they were focusing on earth, on the globe, and the surrounding area. They've never paid attention to deep space, the moon and beyond. NASA has been entrusted to work with other space agencies to provide the regulatory framework for activities over there. And other agencies also looked at NASA to provide that coordination among users for the use of frequencies beyond the near earth environment. So our relationship with ITU has been a relationship of trust. We provide that complimentary support to the ITU by looking into areas beyond the near earth environment, to deep space.

Badri Younes: We provide the knowledge and the technical competence to address technical challenges and technical issues that may emerge, and we work with other government agencies. So we are a key player within NTIA and we work very closely with the state department, because it's critical for NASA to ensure that the spectrum not only be used properly, but also because of our global footprint. Our operation is not confined to just the territorial limit of the United States. We look at the entire planet and we go well beyond that into deep space. So we try to make sure that our global interests are protected.

Badri Younes: And everywhere we go, where we have ground stations or there are conferences, NASA's name and the achievement of NASA are well recognized and well respected.

Mat Kaplan: You are seconds away from hearing the rest of my conversation with Badri Younes here on Planetary Radio.

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Mat Kaplan: Here's something else that only just occurred to me and it is in this area of coordination of bandwidth. As you know, the plan's already well underway by a lot of groups to put thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of new satellites in orbit around the earth. All of these will need to communicate not just to and from earth, but perhaps in many cases, with each other.

Mat Kaplan: Do you have concerns, as an expert in this area that would be the parallel to astronomers' concerns about how these little, bright spots crossing the sky are going to interfere with astronomy? Do you have concerns about how they will be interfering with each other, just in terms of communication?

Badri Younes: My only concern is the level of complexity that's going to be added to our operation. Definitely some system may not operate as expected that may cause some interference. These things, we have a way to identify that, and we have a way to resolve potential interference issues. But going back to the issue of the population density in space, and NASA's role in trying to commercialize space, and trying to create economic opportunities. We look at the situation down the road, and we are going to see a heavily populated environment that will need to use either the spectrum properly, or to have the communication capabilities available to them whenever they need it, and wherever they are.

Badri Younes: The environment is going to be so complex, that's why we are moving into autonomous operation and autonomous navigation, as opposed to having someone on the ground scheduling services and work it in a very tedious way in real-time. Because no matter what, the complexity it will not allow people on the ground to manage it properly. So we are really working the technology that will allow us to do that, building on better communication protocols, radios that are multilingual. And when I say multilingual, that means they can talk across a large frequency ban. They can be configured themselves in time, and in frequency, and in wave form such that they adopt, and they be able to communicate with any provider up there.

Mat Kaplan: They're smart.

Badri Younes: They have to be extremely smart. We are pushing something beyond the smart radio to the cognitive, radios that can learn on their own and be able to manage themselves. And this is an active thing that in addition to the transformational technology that I talked about, which is the optical technology. Hopefully in the future, we'll talk about quantum communication and quantum technology. At NASA, we have designated the 2020s to be the decade of flight, where we are infusing optical capability into operation.

Badri Younes: That's going to start, as soon as we launch our next payload into space. We have a satellite that we have in partnership with other government agencies that's launching next month. It's carrying a highly capable, two optical payload that will be able to communicate direct to the ground, and will be able to communicate in space to space, to provide the user the flexibility, whether they want to go direct to ground, or whether they want to go up into space.

Mat Kaplan: Is this LCRD, and if so, what does that stand for?

Badri Younes: Laser Communication Relay Demonstration. It's nothing fancy about that but that's going to be our first opportunity to demonstrate and show the feasibility of operating in space using optical communications. Other agencies have done it, but to a limited extent. They just go in from space to space. Our comp payload will go in all directions and will provide the user maximum flexibility and relay in the user data.

Badri Younes: I believe working with photon, going to be a quantum leap into the future. It's critical to enable quantum technology because you are working with photons. So quantum communications, optical communication is critical and to enable quantum communications. Where we see opportunities to have other quantum activities enabled by quantum networking, such as distributed quantum computing. In addition to what the quantum technology brings to communication, in terms of capability and robustness.

Mat Kaplan: Let me stop you there because I definitely wanted to get this new area, the area that Einstein called spooky action at a distance, quantum. And we know that there are many agencies around the world, international agencies, that are beginning to do quantum research using spacecraft.

Mat Kaplan: So it's fascinating to hear what activity SCaN, on behalf of NASA and the United States, has underway. What is the potential here? Do you see potential for using entangled particles that are so truly spooky and mysterious to actually facilitate communication or other purposes?

Badri Younes: Yeah. We are working not just alone. We are working with many other government agencies. We are forming partnerships even with the commercial sector. If we didn't find the potential for it, wouldn't have explored it. But we demonstrated so many things in the lab. The space provides the best avenue for enabling quantum communication. Because on the ground, if you are to communicate using fiber optics and whatever, and other means, you experience a lot of losses and you need to regenerate the signal more often. You may end up losing that entangled state between the two entangled photons. There is nothing magical.

Badri Younes: It's physics, what we are doing, and we are pushing the boundaries of physics. I don't know how far we are going to go. Will we be able to break through the existing laws of physics? That's something to be demonstrated. All we are doing now is trying to demonstrate that it can be done using engineering capability and the technology that will take us further into physics. And sooner or later, we are going to potentially hit a ceiling. What are we going to do, as humanity needs to keep on growing? We'll definitely need to breakthrough. Where will that take us? I'm not going to speculate at this point.

Mat Kaplan: Absolutely fascinating though, to hear about. I suppose in a sense, all communication that relies on photons, including radio frequency, is quantum communication because we are talking about photons.

Badri Younes: More classical physics. Exactly.

Mat Kaplan: Yes. Going back to optical, I'm sure you are eagerly looking forward to the first of the Artemis launches, with any luck early next year to be followed by Artemis two, that will, we hope carry men and women around the moon. Returning humans to the moon, at least its vicinity for the first time in ages. I read that Artemis two, that mission will be testing optical communications. Is that right?

Badri Younes: Exactly. The potential for this technology is so great to enable not only robotic missions, but also human space flights. So we are seeing now the value of that and trying to demonstrate it can contribute to the human space flight. But because we didn't have an operational experience with it, we are having a demonstration on the second flight. And based on that, the result of this demonstration, we'll see how we need to evolve the technology to meet future needs. But definitely NASA is all geared up now to enable the Artemis program with all of its flights, all of its phases, to be successful. NASA has made a decision to make deep space a permanent home in deep space. And we would like to go as far as we can go. We have so many technologies to be demonstrated.

Badri Younes: And the moon is only a station as a stop that we are going to demonstrate some of this technology. Our objective is to go beyond, to go to tomorrows and even beyond. In the past, technology and the capabilities were a problem. Now, we see so much technology has been fielded, and so many new concepts for conquering space emerging. We really should not have to say it, be satisfied with only small achievements. We are looking big and we're trying to achieve big things. That's what's so beautiful about NASA is just your ability to dream and to dream big. The agency is all about making those dreams come true, a reality. It's such a fascinating time to be at NASA.

Mat Kaplan: I'm glad you feel that way. It sure is exciting to talk about for people like me. Here's another one that a lot of us at the Planetary Society and elsewhere around the world are excited about. It's the Psyche mission that will launch next year we hope, and head out for the first time to one of those asteroids that we believe at least is made mostly out of metal, iron, nickel.

Badri Younes: Iron, yeah.

Mat Kaplan: It should be fascinating. And I read that again, there is an optical communication, at least test that is aboard that spacecraft, or will be aboard that spacecraft.

Badri Younes: I remember when we landed the Marsh Laboratory.

Mat Kaplan: Curiosity, Marsh Science Laboratory, right?

Badri Younes: Yeah. Yeah. I was at the dark room and everyone was talking about wouldn't it have been a good idea to have had streaming video coming from that mission? Bandwidth has always been a problem. How much data can you transmit? The potential for optical communication to give you the needed bandwidth to support not only these robotic missions, but the human missions, as we go into the moon and Marsh beyond.

Badri Younes: We will not be satisfied with few kilobits or few megabits per second. We'll be sending humans over there that we need to maintain the same quality of life for them, as they crisscross the heavens. So we need to give them the ability to stream up videos and see their favorite show.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, they're going to want Netflix on their way- [crosstalk 00:38:38]

Badri Younes: They may want Netflix so we definitely need the bandwidth. If I have to do it with RF, I will need a major, a large infrastructure putting so much burden on the mission itself to put huge, large antennas as a comp payload to enable that. No optical can do it at a fraction of the weight, and can give you the bandwidth to stream video and to transmit so many high definition channels up there.

Mat Kaplan: And we haven't even gotten to the navigation side, the N in SCaN. There's one particular project that I want to ask you about because it's one that we featured on Planetary Radio. Back in June of 2019, when the deep space atomic clock got launched into orbit, it went up on the Falcon Heavy, the same rocket that took our light sail two. They're both still up there. Is that test now complete and has it proven itself?

Badri Younes: Definitely. The stability of the clock is so critical in any operation. The atomic clock was designed to provide us two order magnitude. 100 times better performance than the GPS clock.

Mat Kaplan: There's that two orders of magnitude again.

Badri Younes: Two orders of magnitude. And we definitely have demonstrated and achieved that goal. So now we are working on trying to miniaturize the technology and improve it. We've demonstrated it now to operationalize the technology by making it a little bit smaller to fit on any size spacecraft. It's so critical because it reduces the time that you need to be in contact with the spacecraft because the clock is stable. Everything is so stable about it, you don't need to communicate with it on a regular basis to provide corrections.

Mat Kaplan: I see.

Badri Younes: So the clock stability is so critical in navigating through space and deep space, in particular. And so we have a lot of hope that the technology can become operational within a few years. We are looking for partnership with other government agencies and the larger the partnership pool is, the faster we can field that into operation. We achieved our objective.

Mat Kaplan: Well, congratulations on that, and congratulations to that team led by the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Badri Younes: I cannot speak enough about the competence and the skill that we have at JPL. Awesome folks. They keep on beating expectations and really do the impossible. They have been doing that for more than 50 years, as well as the other NASA centers. We work with all of the NASA centers, in particular Goddard Space Flight Center, the Glenn Center over there also. They develop the technology for us and Goddard works on whatever in the near earth environment from a technology. And also, sometimes they do some deep space. The beautiful thing that we have, a level of partnership and collaboration among all of the NASA centers. Although they are competing to get more business, but the level of collaboration is so amazing.

Badri Younes: That's what makes NASA so special. We work as a team and the power of the many is by far better than the power of the one. The scientific discoveries that we are going to have are within reach in our lifetime. So amazing. That's what we try to work with students about. Try to sensitize them to the value that NASA brings to society and to humanity. We are looking at the future. We definitely need the cadre and technological skill that can carry on for us, carry where we are going to leave off. That's why it's so critical that our work doesn't really just stop with us leaving the agency. That our work will continue through the generation of folks that we've sensitized and recruited to continue the mission.

Mat Kaplan: I also think of that classic term spinoff, and that is something that SCaN also contributes to.

Badri Younes: Of course.

Mat Kaplan: Are there areas of development of research, and creation of technology, and systems that you can point to that SCaN has facilitated, that maybe are part of our everyday life now?

Badri Younes: Well, definitely the concept of Tracking and Data Relay Satellite that now created the revolution in the satellite industry. The area of technology we are talking about new radios, smart radios that have been commercialized. And in the future, you are going to see all of our optical technology being commercialized, and be available off the shelf. That's just to say, to mention a few.

Mat Kaplan: Something that has been clear across this entire conversation is how much you love your work and the passion you have for this. You certainly seem to share that with the other scientists, and engineers, and astronauts and officials that we get to talk to on this show.

Badri Younes: I appreciate that, Mat. I'm so happy that you can see that through me. Definitely, it's that passion for space and knowledge that drove me to NASA. Since early age, I would be sitting on the balcony, looking, gazing through the stars and wondering about who we are. Are we alone? So really, I look at space as a place where there are so many answers. In order to find the answer, we need to explore. Exploration is in everyone's blood. It started when we started in living in caves, we always tried to look at what's beyond this hill. Then we got to a river. We wondered what's beyond this river? Then we got to the ocean, what's beyond this ocean? And we discovered the new land, we met new people. Civilization started to grow and that civilization's people and culture started to interact.

Badri Younes: New things started to emerge and civilization, the growth started to accelerate. Then we looked into space and we really landed on the moon. I was looking at the landing on the moon. That's what motivated me the most, that we can do it, that we can. Human beings should not be bounded. Anyone who tells anyone that you cannot do this and you cannot do that, they should not listen to them. You can do anything you set your mind to. And this is the same thing in science, and discovery, and technology. We really need to let our imagination roam. We are as limited as the limit of our imagination, and our imagination doesn't have any limit. You have to believe that you can do it, and you have to put together a roadmap how are you going to get there. Very often in looking at plans for the future, I tell my folks, and they're all very smart people.

Badri Younes: I bring people from the science fiction community also to participate in my activity. I say, I ask them, "Can you please go to the year 2040 and tell me how the situation is going to be there and what technologies will be needed by then? Then come back to me and give me a plan, how to get back into the future." We can grow the smart, we can grow the knowledge, but the imagination is so key. That's what created great artists, great musicians, all of these symphonies because of this imagination. If you pursue it fully and follow your passion, you can do the impossible. That's the message we try to get to our young folks whenever we talk to them. And just to see the spark in their eyes, as they listen to me is the best reward of my job.

Mat Kaplan: Keep doing the impossible, Badri, at least keep imagining it, and how we're going to get there by sitting at workbenches, and coming up with brilliant ideas and soldering them together. Very exciting conversation. Thank you for taking us through the work of SCaN.

Badri Younes: Mat, thank you for having me. Sometimes we wonder why do they pay us. We should be paying the agency for working there because really, NASA has given us the opportunity to grow and to implement our dreams. I would like to encourage anyone who dreams big to really look at NASA as the place to pursue.

Mat Kaplan: I feel the same way about the Planetary Society. Don't tell them I said that they don't need to pay me. I also think it's long overdue for me. I've been saying since probably the beginning of this show, I need to get out there to Goldstone and see that facility. I've been invited, I just have never made it out there, even though I pass through the area now and then. And maybe visit those kids at the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Program once again, as they do their work. As they prepare to achieve the impossible reaching across that final frontier. Badri, thank you so much for this.

Badri Younes: You have my invitation to visit any time. Not only for yourself, all of your audience, the visitor center is open for everyone. Please visit us. Hopefully, it can give you a small sample of the kind of work we do and why we do it.

Mat Kaplan: Badri Younes is the deputy associate administrator, the guy who runs SCaN for NASA Space Communications and Navigation, and has been doing this work for a long time. Thanks again, Badri.

Badri Younes: It's my pleasure. Thank you, Mat, for having me on your radio talk.

Mat Kaplan: Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. Here he is, the chief scientist for the Planetary Society. It's Bruce Betts back once again with a beautiful night sky and some other fun stuff for us. Welcome.

Bruce Betts: Hey there, hi there, ho there, Mat. Are you as happy as can be? We go to the night sky and I'm just going to be boring you every week talking about look over in the west for the next few weeks. Venus, super bright looking stunning into its upper left, you'll see dimmer Saturn, yellowish and bright Jupiter. Jupiter and Saturn closing in on Venus. It'll stay in a similar position for a few weeks, while the others close in and make a lovely planetary line. In the predawn, you're going to have to get a good view to the east and you might be able to check out Mars, but it'll get a lot easier to see and a lot brighter coming up. That's your summary of the night sky.

Mat Kaplan: That was quick.

Bruce Betts: Did you want more?

Mat Kaplan: You're the sky master.

Bruce Betts: Well, okay. Look farther over in the south. There's a star that's not a planet. It's not near any other bright star. It's near plenty of stars. That's Fomalhaut, which I don't know how to pronounce, but I enjoy saying Fomalhaut. That's what it is. It's just hanging out there on its own, in terms of bright stars. All right, that's enough.

Bruce Betts: Now we move on to this week in space history. 1969, Apollo 12 launched, headed to the moon with the second human landing. And in 2014, the Philae Lander became the first lander to land on a comet. Comet 67 [inaudible 00:50:04] that was the target of the Rosetta Philae mission.

Mat Kaplan: More of a first to bounce on a comet, from what I'm told. It had those funny little screw feet that didn't work, or maybe they did work but the material was too loose.

Bruce Betts: I think you had to take the old Air Force adage, anything you can walk away from is good landing. Anything where your humans find you eventually is a good landing in spacecraft, and they did achieve that. They got some science. We move on to random space.

Mat Kaplan: That was the most magnificent rendition in a long time. Thank you.

Bruce Betts: Compliment for today, insult for the past. So the DART mission, the Double Asteroid Redirect Test, which I know you've had on talking about recently on Space Policy Edition. Might be talking more about launches in a couple weeks.

Bruce Betts: Slams a spacecraft into an asteroid. A double asteroid slams into the smaller component dimorphous. It's going fast. How fast is it? It's going 6.6 kilometers per second, or about 4.1 miles per second when it slams in to the asteroid, and vaporizes, and causes the asteroid to change its orbit just a wee bit. But enough that we can measure it in a first planetary Defense Asteroid Redirect Test.

Mat Kaplan: How fast is it? Oh, I missed my cue. I'm sorry. I was way off.

Bruce Betts: What is up with your timing?

Mat Kaplan: Our friend, Nancy Chabot, is going to be back next week.

Bruce Betts: Oh, good.

Mat Kaplan: That's a week prior to the launch. She is the coordination lead for DART at the Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University. I'm looking forward to getting that pre-launch review of the mission from her.

Bruce Betts: Yeah. That's a great mission and she'll be great talking about it. Well, shall we move on to the trivia contest? I asked you who was the first person to fly two orbital space missions? How'd we do Mat?

Mat Kaplan: Well, the response was lower than usual. I don't know why. Also, not only was quantity off, quality was off. A lot of people got confused by this one, and they're going to accuse you of being the tricky chief scientist that you are.

Mat Kaplan: Here is what I believe is the correct answer from our poet, Laurie and Dave Fairchild in Kansas. Gordon Cooper went to space and orbited the heavens flying in his Mercury the right stuff called Faith 7. Two years later, Cooper flew his Gemini was nice. And so became the first of all to orbit Tara twice.

Bruce Betts: That is correct, Gordo, Gordon Cooper. How was I tricky?

Mat Kaplan: You included the word orbital. First to make two orbital flights.

Bruce Betts: Well, if they listened to the show, I spazzed out and said orbital. Okay, maybe I didn't.

Mat Kaplan: But maybe on the contest page I should have, as well. The visible version of that because a lot of people said, Gus Grissom. Well, Gus Grissom's first flight, Mercury 4, as you well know, was a suborbital.

Bruce Betts: Tricky, tricky.

Mat Kaplan: Well, in spite of that, a lot of people still got it right. Among them, first time winner Patrick Emerson. Congratulations, and Patrick, also from Kansas, by the way, who indeed said it was Gordo Cooper. First was Mercury 9, 1963. Second was Gemini 5 in 1965. Patrick, we're going to be sending you that safe, insane Planetary Society, kick asteroid, rubber asteroid. Congratulations.

Bruce Betts: Congratulations.

Mat Kaplan: And here is more. John Judge in Washington, "I thought it was Wally Sharah on Gemini 6A, or a Soviet cosmonaut but was surprised that it was Gordo." Hudson Ansley in New Jersey thought it was interesting that Gordon was also the first American to spend an entire day in space. The first to sleep in space, and the last American launched on an entirely solo orbital mission, which I think was pretty interesting, actually. 34 hours in total in space, more than all five of the previous Mercury astronauts combined, even before he got to Gemini. That came from Matthew Easton in Virginia.

Bruce Betts: Those were a lot of good facts.

Mat Kaplan: They are. They're pretty good random space facts, aren't they? Here's something from Mel Powell. He got the answer right, Mel in California. He said he was also sure it was Wally Sharah. He says, "Thank goodness I looked it up instead of being sure, but Sharah was the first with the hat trick, Mercury 8, Gemini 6A, and Apollo 7." And then he adds in bold," Don't read this if BB is going to use it later."

Bruce Betts: Oh man, I got to come up with a new question. By the way, the only person to fly in all three programs, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

Mat Kaplan: And he was just a fun guy, anyway. Finally, this from Gene Lewin with a tribute to Wally, Mr. Sharah. Hockey has the original six. NASA, the Mercury seven. Six skated pucks across icy, blue lines. Seven cross Carmen to heaven. Of the seven, good, old Wally Sharah orbited in Mercury 8, and then again, in Gemini 6A. His second mission a sort of date. Moving then to the Apollo team, crossing that line in the sky for his third. First astronaut to achieve that there mark in three different NASA program birds.

Bruce Betts: Nice.

Mat Kaplan: Thank you, Gene, and a nice tribute. Nice tribute. He was always one of my favorite astronauts was Wally and they're the birds too. What do you got for next time?

Bruce Betts: I asked you who was the first person to fly two, orbital space missions? We just discussed that extensively. Well, in a weird twist today, I'm going to ask you who was the first Soviet cosmonaut to fly two, orbital space missions? Go to

Mat Kaplan: You have this time until Wednesday, November 17 at 8:00 AM Pacific Time and we will award the winner one of those Planetary Society kick asteroid, rubber asteroids. But wait, there's more, as Bruce is fond of saying. We had an auction at the Planetary Society not too long ago. Among the items auctioned was the chance to have your haiku read during the What's Up segment of Planetary Radio.

Mat Kaplan: The winning bid in that portion of the auction was put forward by Lee Schultise, and we have some haiku from Lee. Lee, thank you so much for your support, but also for these haiku, which are all light sail inspired, although he points out they also apply to regular ocean going, sailing ships as well. Here's the first of them. It has always been that each time a sail unfurls, a new world opens.

Bruce Betts: Oh.

Mat Kaplan: Good start. You want the next one?

Bruce Betts: Sure. The golden light streams, the blue oceans move below, the silver sail fills.

Mat Kaplan: I guess that's definitely us. That's light sail for sure, silver sails. Okay, here's number three. Every adventure and tale of glory begins with an open sail. And finally.

Bruce Betts: We have always sailed on a power around us that we cannot see.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Bravo, bravo, bravo. Thank you very much, Lee.

Bruce Betts: Thank you for support.

Mat Kaplan: Now I think we're done.

Bruce Betts: All right, everybody. Go out there, look up the night sky and think about are the farthest place on earth that you visited relative to where you live now. Thank you and goodnight.

Mat Kaplan: Huh. For me, I'm going to guess that's either Delhi or Agra, India. What about you?

Bruce Betts: I think Australia. Australia would almost certainly do it for me.

Mat Kaplan: Keep thinking about that kind of stuff. He is the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. Why? Because we like him. That's Bruce Betts and he joins us every week for What's Up. Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members, who love to communicate their love of space exploration. Become part of the conversation at Mark Hilverda and Jason Davis are our associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad astra.