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LaNetra Tate: Chemistry, Commercialization, and Cello Concertos

Division Leader Empowers the Commercial Marketplace and User Missions Alike

By ​Danny Baird

April 29, 2021

LaNetra Tate, ESC Deputy Program Manager for Execution Credit: NASA

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is embracing commercial space communications providers and developing game-changing capabilities that will support the next generation of science and exploration. Leaders like the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division’s Dr. LaNetra Tate are shepherding the agency into a new future where industry and government work hand-in-hand to support missions close to Earth.

“We’re working with industry to define the next 60 years of communications and navigation services,” said Tate. “It’s about creating an environment that sees public/private partnerships with a shared vision and as an opportunity to promote cost-effective solutions.”

Tate began her relationship with NASA long before she worked for the agency. Her love of space science and exploration began as a child on Florida’s space coast.

“Growing up in Florida, I had an early awareness of the space program, and that in itself is so inspiring,” said Tate. “You could actually see a space shuttle launch on a clear day.

“As I got older, I got to see Dr. Mae Jemison become an icon at NASA as an astronaut, which was also very motivating.”

These early experiences with NASA would encourage Tate to pursue a STEM education, following the likes of Jemison to the highest levels of her field. In 2005, Tate received her doctorate in chemistry from the University of South Florida.

“I majored in chemistry because chemistry was a challenge. It was hard,” said Tate. “I was determined not to allow it to conquer me. I was going to conquer it.”

Coming from a family of educators, she would follow in their footsteps, receiving education credentials alongside her chemistry degrees. During her collegiate experience, she would also work alongside scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.

Tate’s formal career with NASA began in 2005 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She worked in materials science research, utilizing her expertise in nanotube-based composites, the topic of her doctoral research. During that time, Tate also completed a six-month detail at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, working on composite systems.

From Kennedy, Tate moved to NASA’s Mary W. Jackson Headquarters in Washington to support a presidential manufacturing initiative as part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. She also served as the principal technologist for materials and nanotechnology and would move into the role of program executive, serving first on the Game Changing Development program and then on the Technology Demonstration Missions program.

Today, Tate serves as the deputy program manager for execution at ESC. In that role, she maintains responsibility for NASA’s Near Space Network, which provides communications to missions through a blend of commercial and government communications infrastructure, and the Advanced Communications Capabilities for Exploration and Science Systems (ACCESS) project, which oversees government-owned, contractor-operated infrastructure.

“The project managers work with me so that we can make sure — from an operations perspective — that our customers are able to get the data they need from their missions,” said Tate. “That data is vital to making new scientific discoveries and ensuring the safety and success of NASA exploration missions.”

Tate also serves as the acting chief of the division’s Commercialization, Innovation, and Synergies (CIS) office, which she helped found. CIS is a critical component of ESC’s Near Space Network Enterprise, guiding new entrants into the burgeoning commercial communications marketplace to support NASA missions.

“We’re proactively engaged with industry, other government agencies, academia, and more, building relationships with potential new providers that could support our Near Space Network,” said Tate.

Tate and her colleagues within CIS are creating a vibrant space communications and navigation marketplace dedicated to mission, industry, and civil space engagement. They’re working with private industry, government agencies, international partners, and academia to explore current and future capabilities, identifying common needs, and establishing a shared vision.

The CIS mission engagement team works with potential network users to define requirements, providing them with innovative communication and navigation solutions. These solutions are designed to meet all mission objectives, while potentially reducing costs. They also help missions and new business proposals be more responsive and competitive.

The CIS civil space engagement team promotes ESC as a hub for meaningful information sharing and interoperability between NASA and other U.S. government agencies. Specifically the team fosters mutually beneficial partnerships and dialogues with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Companies, missions, and other government agencies can visit the CIS webpage to learn about upcoming engagement events.

Outside of her work at NASA, Tate enjoys spending time with her 10-year-old son. She also has a green thumb and musical fingers.

“I love to dig in the dirt, so I love my plants,” said Tate. “I also love to play my cello. It’s very relaxing. I take lessons every week.”

LaNetra Tate is a Renaissance woman whose diverse skill set has propelled NASA forward over the course of her career. She follows in the footsteps of game changers like Mae Jemison and other NASA professionals who have left their mark on the landscape of space exploration.

Her recent work in space communications will change the ways that missions communicate their data from space, fueling private industry and the U.S. economy.

We’re working with industry to define the next 60 years of communications and navigation services... creating an environment that sees public/private partnerships with a shared vision.

— LaNetra Tate

ESC Deputy Program Manager for Execution