LunaNet, moon, optical communications, Profile 

Leading the Way to Lunar Relays

Employee Spotlight: Jaime Esper

By Valeriya Nakshun

March 24, 2022

Jaime Esper, LCRNS Project Manager Credit: NASA

The newly established Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems (LCRNS) project office is enabling an approach that will allow missions at the Moon to communicate to Earth-based ground stations and to other lunar assets.

A part of this approach includes lunar relays. NASA has been leveraging relay satellites since 1983 when the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite launched. With relays, NASA can increase communications coverage and exploration opportunities because missions are not required to have direct, line-of-sight connections to antennas on Earth.

With relays in lunar orbit, NASA can land missions anywhere on the Moon, including the far side, and not have to worry about the communications link. This will alleviate landing site issues, increase science data return, and allow missions - like rovers - to travel almost anywhere.

At the helm, is Dr. Jaime Esper as LCRNS' project manager. Under his leadership the project has matured through the incubation process, secured dedicated funding, and built confidence across the aerospace community.

LCRNS is one of many activities that Esper has contributed to during his time with the agency. Esper joined NASA in 1988 as a flight controller on the International Ultraviolet Explorer mission.

"At the time, onboard computers were very limited in capacity, so we had to operate the spacecraft manually. We had to maneuver the spacecraft with a keyboard: you would get the printed scripts and then you would enter the commands for uplink to the spacecraft," said Esper. "To command the spacecraft to move and instruments to operate we used something even more basic than a joystick."

Esper decided to become an engineer after attending school. He holds several degrees from prominent universities across the United States and Germany.

"Studying has always been my passion, and I always wanted to learn more through my next challenge. I started with physics because it was the mother of all engineering, and then continued my education with astronomy because I was always entranced by the stars" said Esper.

He started his education at the University of Florida, where he received his Bachelor of Science in physics in 1984. Additionally, he received his Master of Science in astronomy in 1987. He later went on to receive a master’s in mechanical aerospace engineering from the George Washington University and his doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Stuttgart in Germany.

After starting with NASA in 1988, he has had a long career working on the development of architectures and programs that expand the commercial market-base, applying systems and technologies to enable cost-effective approaches. He has supported numerous proposals and worked on spaceflight missions including the Hubble Space Telescope, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), IceCube, Dione, multiple small satellites, and spaceflight experiments.

"Planetary exploration has always been a passion for me" said Esper. "I wanted to work on missions that are investigating the wonders of the universe and our own planet."

In 2019, Esper started collaborating with the Technology Enterprise and Mission Pathfinder Office (TEMPO) on LunaNet, and in 2020 he officially joined the office on a detail. Prior to LCRNS' establishment, Jaime incubated the project from within the TEMPO team, conducting pre-formulation activities like securing funding and presenting the benefits of a lunar relay.

Since then, LCRNS has successfully developed into its own office with Dr. Esper leading the way.