NASA Funds Research into a Solar System “Pony Express” System

Artist’s depiction of the Solar System Pony Express system. (Credits: Joshua Vander Hook)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

Solar System Pony Express
Joshua Vander Hook
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

The Solar System Pony Express is a global, multi-spectral, high-resolution planetary surveyor supported by regular visits from a cycler satellite network to retrieve petabits of data for transit to Earth.

The “courier” satellites use optical communications to receive 1-3 petabits from the surveyor at least once per year. They then travel close to earth where they can downlink the data quickly.

By exploiting cycler orbits, the couriers need minimal onboard propulsion and can operate for decades as an augmentation to the Deep Space Network and a precursor to a Human Exploration logistics network.

2021 Phase I Selections

About NIAC

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of breakthroughs — radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts — while engaging America’s innovators and entrepreneurs as partners in the journey.

The program seeks innovations from diverse and non-traditional sources and NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day “change the possible” in aerospace. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to NIAC, please see our “Apply to NIAC” link ( for information about the status of our current NASA Research Announcement (NRA). For descriptions of current NIAC projects, please refer to our ”NIAC Studies” link (

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