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In the case of MRO and Curiosity communications via UHF, an active feedback system was implemented in which Curiosity monitored the quality/SNR of the connection and commanded Curiosity to increase / decrease the data rate accordingly. Does this change in rate occur via a change in the bandwidth of the signal, a change in the coding strategy (eg QPSK to BPSK), a combination of both, or something different? I assume similar strategies are implemented in all kinds of satellite and terrestrial telecommunications as well?

I have a more mechanical aerospace background and I'm trying to learn about telecommunications and this little problem is bugging me like crazy. It seems such a basic concept but I haven't been able to find an answer.

Thanks in advance

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2 Answers 2

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The MSL DESCANSO article states that it is MRO that monitors the SNR and controls the data rate (section 2.2.2):

In this mode of operations, it is the MRO radio that controls the return data rate, based on its own receiver power telemetry. The MRO radio commands the lander radio to change data rates on the fly.

It's likely that the modulation scheme (eg QPSK, BPSK, etc.) and bandwidth stay the same. The Shannon-Hartley theorem gives an expression for maximum channel capacity, $C$ (data rate) subject to gaussian noise, $N$, with bandwidth $B$:

$$C=B\log{_2}\Big(1+\frac{S}{N}\Big)$$

Holding bandwidth constant, we can see that a higher SNR ($\frac{S}{N}$) signal can support a higher data rate.

This is accomplished by changing the modulation rate or symbol rate; the rate at which the phase shifts occur.

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Another interesting paper is The Electra Proximity Link Payload for Mars Relay Telecommunications and Navigation (C.D. Edwards, et al., 2003), which is reference #21 in the DESCANSO paper @BrendanLuke15 linked. It describes a software-defined radio based on a 32-bit SPARC and a million-gate FPGA, saying

The modulation chain within the FPGA includes a V.38 scrambler, differential encoder, Reed-Solomon encoder and interleaver, convolutional encoder and then selection of Manchester or NRZ-L coding into the final digital modulator block.

The SPARC runs at 24 MHz, but the selectable output data rate runs from 1 ksps to 2 Msps in powers of 2. The basic modulation is BPSK (QPSK and 8PSK are mentioned in passing as possible future hardware modifications), but that's then k=7 rate=1/2 convolutional encoded (3-bit Viterbi soft decode) and interleaved with RS (255,239) or (204,188).

This is probably incomprehensible to most people, but it at least gives you a set of search terms to start chasing. A reasonable place to start is probably with Reed-Solomon, which is used in all commercial CDs and DVDs. If you want even more detail, then try Real-Time Navigation for Mars Missions Using the Mars Network (E.G. Lightsey et al., 2008) next.

On the other hand, it looks to me like all of the fancy stuff is fixed. When the orbiter commands a data rate change, it looks like all the rover does is double or halve the symbol rate, not change the encoding or interleaving. This means the bandwidth varies in the same simple way, as they try to crank up $B$ to as close to $C$ as their varying SNR permits.

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