European Space Agency

Interplanetary Communication ACTION 1: Requirements Analysis


This activity will collect the requirements for interplanetary communication systems to support the space exploration activities. It will take into account input from concept studies of future missions (e.g. Mars Sample Return), as well as from studies on the medium- and long-term programmatic planning such as the “Analysis of space-based services architecture for the European space exploration”. Main emphasis will be given to the European Aurora needs, but this review will not be limited to these.

The objective of this activity is to understand the challenges of future interplanetary communication and navigation systems. A systematic collection and review of communication requirements for the European Exploration Program will be performed. Other international initiatives will also be taken into account, as well as the emerging Interplanetary Internet activities.

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Several key aspects for the design of future communication architectures for interplanetary communications will play a pivotal role in the study:

  • The decision between radiofrequency and optical communication links,
  • Future link topologies, in particular the concept of local relays such as Mars or Lunar telecommunications orbiters,
  • The interoperability between interplanetary missions to the same target,
  • The communication requirements for special science tasks such as atmospheric sounding or gravity field determination,
  • The special needs of human deep-space missions (for instance telemedicine).


Interplanetary Communication Requirements Analysis is the first of a set of two studies that will help to focus ESA's technology development activities concerning communication and navigation systems for deep-space missions. A coherent picture of the user requirements and system requirements for the upcoming and planned exploration mission will serve to identify those technologies that will be a common need of future missions and hence should be selected for development activities.

By setting the scope also beyond ESA missions, trends in the international activities on interplanetary missions will be identified. These trends will be fostered for their applicability within the programmatic context of ESA exploration missions. By these activities the Interplanetary Communication Requirements Analysis will allow ESA to identify hot topics in technology development and support agency's the long term planning.


The Interplanetary Communication Requirements Analysis will provide its results in several ways. The core is formed by three databases: The "mission review data base", the "communication user requirements and system requirements database" and the "navigation user requirements and system requirements database". These databases will be accompanied by meta information in the form of reports that summarise and interpret the contents of the databases. The combination of data collections and reports guarantees both full traceability of the identified requirements and convenient access to the main conclusions.

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Interplanetary communications requirements review and technology situation will be synthesised into a roadmap of European interplanetary communications activities supporting European exploration activities. This will be done through 6 tasks:

  1. Interplanetary Mission Review
  2. Mission Synthesis Review
  3. Interplanetary Communications Requirements Synthesis
  4. Interplanetary Navigation Requirements
  5. Interplanetary Internet Requirements
  6. Interplanetary Communications and Navigation Requirements Review

Starting with a review of approved and envisaged interplanetary missions of Europe, United States and all other countries and Agencies (Japan, India, China, South Korea, etc) the communication and navigation requirements are extracted and classified. This is the subject of the first part of this study ending with a Mission Synthesis Review (Task 1 and Task 2).

The second part of the study consists of three tasks (Task 3-5) which will be performed in parallel. These tasks are dedicated to a more detailed synthesis of communication and navigation requirements. The third task is dedicated to the subject of the Interplanetary Internet (a draft standard for store & forward communications over changing link topologies).

The final task of this study compiles and presents all the findings of this study and will be completed with the participation at a special workshop organized by the Agency.

Current status

The project has reached its first major milestone, the Interplanetary Mission Synthesis Review (IMSR). For the IMSR all proposed, planned and upcoming interplanetary missions have been reviewed and their communication and navigation features have been identified. The missions have been grouped according to common requirements and the commonalities and dissimilarities between the missions have been identified.

Status date

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 13:17