As you may or may not know, the ARRL has an award called the Elser-Mathers Cup that is to be awarded to the amateurs that complete the first amateur radio contact between the Earth and Mars. It’s been sitting on a shelf at ARRL HQ since 1928.
Well, apparently, NASA isn’t waiting for hams to make this happen. A story in Network World reports that NASA has issued a Request for Information that explores options to buy commercial communications services to support users on Mars.
NASA’s current Mars relay infrastructure is aging, and there is a potential communications gap in the 2020s, which is why NASA wants to explore alternative models to sustain and develop the Mars relay infrastructure. Mars landers and rovers are constrained in mass, volume, and power, all of which contribute to a substantial restriction in the data rates and volumes that can be communicated on the direct link between Mars and Earth.
To address the limitation in direct-to-Earth bandwidth, the Mars Exploration Program has developed a strategy of including a proximity-link telecommunications relay payload on each of its Mars science orbiters. The relay payloads establish links with landers and rovers on the surface, supporting very high-rate, energy-efficient links between the orbiter and lander.