NASA is currently looking for proposals for a commercial satellite network to be put in orbit around Mars. The satellite network would be used to provide telecommunications capabilities for future robotic missions to Mars.
"We are looking to broaden participation in the exploration of Mars to include new models for government and commercial partnerships," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Depending on the outcome, the new model could be a vital component in future science missions and the path for humans to Mars."
NASA wants to avoid a communications gap foreseen for the 2020s and is seeking cost effective solutions to future communications needs. "Looking ahead, we need to seriously explore the possibility of the commercialization of Mars communications services," said Lisa May. "This will offer advantages to NASA, while also providing appropriate return-on-investment to the service provider." Communications currently use relay radios to send data from the surface of Mars to orbiters in place around the planet. With only one more orbiter, MAVEN, planned in the foreseeable future, NASA is predicting communications issues for future rovers sent to the surface of the planet.