Dave Israel Credit: NASA
DTN, space mobile network, LCRD, Profile 

Employee Spotlight: Dave Israel

By ​Danny Baird

January 29, 2018

When one imagines the work of an architect, flying buttresses soar through the air. Cantilevered fortresses of concrete and glass rise from the Earth. The past and the present unite in a seamless skyline, a testament to the legacy of visionaries gone and still to come.

Architects don’t just define the spaces we live in, the walls that surround us. There are architects whose artistry flows through networks of data; through the systems that support us. At NASA, Dave Israel is one of these designers, a communications architect for the Exploration and Space Communications division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Israel is an architect of the Space Mobile Network, an interplanetary internet. He envisions a future in which users anywhere in the solar system can gain access to the network in the same way one might reach for their cell phone and connect with friends an ocean away. Many technologies must coalesce to make this a reality, and Dave focuses primarily on three.

Laser communication promises higher data rates and reduced size, weight and power over traditional communications methods. Also, since much of the microwave and radio portions of the electromagnetic spectrum have already been assigned to users, laser communication, in infrared, opens up a whole new portion of the spectrum for use.

Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) allows communications from space without continuous data path to the destination. Spacecraft with DTN capabilities can dump their data into DTN nodes along an interrupted pathway, preserving that data until the route becomes clear. DTN can increase the efficiency of our networks, while also providing improved security and more robust data solutions.

User-initiated services would allow for customers to receive communications services without scheduling them ahead of time. This would make the network more agile, giving missions service based on event-driven needs. Algorithms would tailor these services to the specific needs of a spacecraft based on the amount of data needed and environmental factors affecting the network. This paradigm shift would reduce the necessity for human oversight of the networks, decrease the overall cost of communications and make our networks more adaptable to mission needs.

Architects don’t just design, they also build. Israel doesn’t just dream up these technologies, he tests and demonstrates them as well.

Israel serves as principal investigator for the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), which, after launching in 2019, will test foundational laser communications technologies. The demonstration will relay data between optical ground stations through a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Another upcoming mission will demonstrate a communications relay from the space station through LCRD to those same ground stations.

Israel also led a recent demonstration of DTN technologies. The demonstration sent a selfie from Antarctica to the space station, making stops at numerous DTN nodes along the way. Technology demonstrations like this help to test DTN, as well as to inspire future missions to use the tech.

When he’s not thinking about the networks of tomorrow or facing the communications challenges of today, Dave plays guitar for Baltimore punk band, National Razor FDIC and is the co-writer of 1814! The War of 1812 Rock Opera. From lighting up the stage to lighting up the interplanetary internet, Israel is a rock star engineer whose service to NASA continues a rich legacy of innovation in space communications.