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Space Technology Hall of Fame

1997

The ability to see faint objects, such as distant galaxies, is a critical element of the Hubble Space Telescope's mission. NASA researchers found that available technology could not meet Hubble's stringent requirements. A joint development effort between NASA and Scientific Imaging Technologies, Inc. (SITe) developed a new charged coupled device technology fulfilling the rigorous needs. The new technology was ideal for application to breast cancer detection because of common requirements between space and medical imaging, such as high resolution to see fine details, wide dynamic range and low light sensitivity to shorten exposure time. 

The stereotactic breast biopsy system incorporates the charged coupled technology as the key component of a digital camera system that scans the breast structure with x-rays. The system images suspicious breast tissue more clearly and efficiently, and saves women time and money; reduces pain and radiation exposure; and eliminates the scarring of more invasive techniques. With more than 500,000 women undergoing breast biopsies each year, the system dramatically reduces annual health care costs. The system that first made possible this new technique is the LORAD Stereo Guide Breast Biopsy System, which incorporates SITe's CCD as part of its digital camera system. 

The technology breakthrough that spawned the LORAD system originated at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where scientists had developed the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, now installed on the Hubble. The Hubble-derived CCD is now leading the field of digital breast imaging with radiologists predicting the new technique will reduce national health care costs by more than $1 billion a year.
With an ever-increasing market for satellite generated information, new advanced satellite communications methods for transmitting tremendous amounts of information are needed. NASA ascertained that an all-digital, gigabit-capacity communications system was necessary to handle the growing demand and produced the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS). 

Launched in 1993, the satellite uses advanced on-board switching and processing technology that permit on-demand allocation of satellite channels and reuse of bandwidth. ACTS also features significant capacity gain through the use of special antenna systems, which generate message-carrying spot beams, each focused on a narrow Earth region as opposed to the broad beams generated by earlier satellites. These and other ACTS technologies combine to offer potential for significant cost reductions that would make practicable such new services as remote medical imaging diagnostics, global personal communications, direct transmission of image data to battlefield commanders, and interconnection of distantly-located supercomputers. 

To transfer the new technology, NASA implemented a partnership program with one hundred partners from industry, government, and academia. Several telecommunications firms have incorporated specific technologies into their satellite systems, including Motorola Iridium Global Personal Communication System and Hughes Space & Communications. The ACTS antenna design has been commercially transferred into a land-mobile satellite antenna system that will enable direct broadcast satellite television aboard moving vehicles. The ACTS design has enabled these mobile satellite antennas to remain pointed at the transmitting satellite regardless of the motion of the vehicle on which it is mounted. Future applications could include use in broadcasting, emergency medical and military vehicles.
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