Lisa Cacciatore: Steward of NASA’s Spectrum Needs
By Danny Baird
April 27, 2021
The electromagnetic spectrum can be seen as a finite resource. Devices ranging from small cell phones and tablets to large telecommunications and weather satellites rely on electromagnetic waves to communicate without cables.
As the electromagnetic landscape crowds with diverse users, spectrum managers like Lisa Cacciatore at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, assure that this complex environment can support the needs of NASA missions.
“We get to touch on just about every mission that goes through Goddard,” said Cacciatore. “Every mission requires spectrum to communicate — every science mission, every robotic mission, every new mission.”
Lisa Cacciatore grew up in Tappahannock, Virginia, a small town an hour southeast of Richmond. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech, focusing her education on satellite telecommunications.
“It was kind of a long journey to NASA,” Lisa Cacciatore. “I came to the agency mid-career.”
She began her career in 2001 with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), working with their international bureau on satellite spectrum management. One of the key efforts she worked on involved satellite telecommunications for cruises.
“Putting ground terminals on cruise ships provides broadband services to the cruise industry,” said Cacciatore. “I did the technical analysis and wrote part of the technical rules for the FCC.”
From the FCC, she moved to The Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). At the FFRDC, she served as a satellite systems engineer for U.S. Air Force ground stations, leveraging her skills in management and systems development.
In 2015, Cacciatore would enter the NASA workforce, lending her expertise in spectrum management to the agency.
“I have found the culture of NASA has been collaborative and focused on learning, which to me is really interesting because I like to learn new things, and grow, and expand,” said Cacciatore. “That’s one aspect about NASA that I really appreciate.”
In her current role as Goddard’s deputy spectrum manager, Cacciatore assures that missions have access to these spectrum needs. This involves working with missions with a wide variety of profiles.
“The bread and butter of my role is managing all of the technical analysis that we perform,” said Cacciatore. “Every month, we have on the order of 1500 requests that flow through the spectrum management office.”
Additionally, for the past two years, Cacciatore has served as the chairman for the U.S.’s working party 7B (WP 7B), which is responsible for science missions’ radiocommunication spectrum needs. In that role, she leads the U.S. delegation on worldwide science spectrum matters, building consensus from stakeholders in a variety of federal agencies, mobile service providers, and the commercial aerospace communities, to be negotiated at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Can it be complicated representing so many organizations?
“It’s a challenge, but it’s easily overcome if you’re very transparent,” said Cacciatore. “In a meeting, if I want to support a NASA position, I’ll say, ‘Not speaking as chairman, but as an advocate for NASA, I support such and such.’
“As long as you separate those roles out, you are okay.”
As highlight of her time with NASA, Cacciatore remembers the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. She attended WRC-19 as a part of NASA’s delegation, representing the agency on the international stage and lending her expertise to the proceedings.
“I like negotiations. I like the give and take, trying to figure out everyone’s agenda,” said Cacciatore. “It’s like a chessboard. I find it fascinating.”
“We get to touch on just about every mission that goes through Goddard. Every mission requires spectrum to communicate — every science mission, every robotic mission, every new mission.”
— Lisa Cacciatore
Goddard Deputy Spectrum Manager