The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 26, 2001
February 26, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 23


APL Broadens Use Of Its Satellite Communications Facility

By Ben Walker
Applied Physics Laboratory
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Based on a recent memorandum of understanding with the U.S. government, the Applied Physics Laboratory has broadened use of its Satellite Communications Facility to include industrial space organizations for the first time. The Laboratory has already signed contracts with three companies.

"APL and the government, in an innovative partnership, have figured out how to use government assets more wisely," says Richard T. Roca, director of APL. "This agreement will reduce the government's cost of doing business by sharing the cost of fixed SCF operating expenses and help national space activities by making our space facilities available to commercial enterprises."

Participants in the long-term, multiagency agreement include APL, the Naval Sea Systems Command and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. NASA is not a signatory but will benefit from industrial access to the Satellite Communications Facility, which includes APL-owned assets acquired under NASA programs. Under the agreement, the government has first priority on the use of the SCF, and any commercial use cannot interfere with government requirements for its use.

The Satellite Communications Facility includes government-furnished property as well as equipment and real property owned by APL. It features 5-meter, 10-meter and 60-foot antennas, each supported by telemetry, command and processing systems that are used to track and collect data from satellites, planetary explorations and manned space flight activities.

The Laboratory has agreed to provide SCF services under Lockheed Martin's Consolidated Space Operations Contract, or CSOC, and through separate contracts with Honeywell DataLynx and Universal Space Net, representing an annual value in excess of $5 million. These commercial companies will be able to schedule the SCF over the Web and use the facility as though it were one of their own ground stations, being billed only for satellite contacts that are conducted.

Through the 18-month, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract agreement with CSOC, the Laboratory will provide ground-based mission and data services to NASA and other customers. APL joins more than 40 CSOC partners providing end-to-end services that include acquisition of space data, transmission of data to end users and mission control operations.

"The CSOC contract helps fulfill NASA's intent to reduce costs of mission and data services, move that responsibility to industry and embrace private sector commercial practices and services," says Ruth E. Nimmo, APL assistant director for business operations.

The contracts with Honeywell Data-Lynx and Universal Space Net are both five-year agreements that allow the companies to use the SCF to communicate with their satellites.

"The SCF has provided government sponsors with ground support for spacecraft contacts over the past 40 years, recording more than 50,000 satellite passes in the past 15 years," says Glen E. Baer, facility manager. "With technical support always on call, we've been conducting unattended contacts with satellites since 1995, and now this capability can be shared with commercial users on a cost-effective basis."

Baer says that typically a company would use the SCF for a 15-minute, fixed-price, automated recording of a satellite pass and be billed for the contact. Other arrangements include per-minute use and custom recording of satellite passes involving APL personnel. Customers can schedule their satellite contacts over the Web.

For more on APL's commercial space program, go to For information on the SCF, go to