Given the contentious nature of spectrum allocation, that work could take some time. The Wallops group believes X-band is the way to go for government-backed smallsat com, in part because a lot of the infrastructure is in place.
But while the ground end is ready for X-band, cubesat designers would have some spacecraft development to complete before an operational network can be established.
“People have stayed away from X-band for whatever reason—its high power need, accurate pointing,” the Wallops engineer says. “But if you could get an X-band cubesat radio, you could get hundreds of megabits per second with a large aperture dish, and you can get megabits per second with a small aperture dish.”
The Wallops group has also studied communications with cubesats orbiting the Moon. Schaire says with a large tracking dish, the data rate could be bits or kilobits per second “depending on the antenna on the cubesat.”
A ground network of old tracking dishes could greatly enhance cubesat utility for government-backed missions, and be available for commercial missions at “very reasonable” rates, Schaire says. And with applicable dishes like the ones in Boulder scattered around the world, using them to expand the ground network makes sense, because “if swarms get large and start to use this network, we could get overwhelmed very shortly.”