A new technology, called NavCube, combines NASA's SpaceCube 2.0 – a reconfigurable and fast flight computing platform said to be 10 to 100 times faster than traditional flight processors – with the Navigator GPS flight receiver. According to Nasa, it could help demonstrate X-ray communications in space; a capability that would allow the transmission of gigabits per second throughout the solar system.

"NavCube is more flexible than previous navigators because of its computational resources. Also, because we added the ability to process modernised GPS signals, NavCube can enhance performance at low and high altitudes, potentially even to the area of space near the moon and lunar orbits," said Luke Winternitz, Navigator's chief architect.

Navigator GPS uses the GPS signal to enable on-board autonomous positioning, navigation, and timing even in weak-signal areas. According to NASA, at the highest point of the Magnetospheric Multiscale orbit, Navigator has tracked up to 12 GPS satellites.

"We knew that processing speed from SpaceCube and the tracking capability of Navigator could be a powerful combination," said Barry Geldzahler, chief scientist for NASA's Space Communication and Navigation programme. "The next task was to figure out how to make it smaller and increase the sensitivity for more flexible mission applications."

The team ported the Navigator software and firmware into the SpaceCube reprogrammable platform and developed a compatible GPS radio-frequency card, thus reducing Navigator's size. The team also added GPS signal capabilities and enhanced Navigator's sensitivity.

As part of a potential X-ray communications demonstration, NavCube will drive the electronics for a device called the Modulated X-ray Source, which generates rapid-fire X-ray pulses, turning on and off many times per second. These rapid-fire pulsations can be used to encode digital bits for transmitting data.