NASA Tests Interplanetary Internet

TheInternet has entered the final frontier.

NASA hassuccessfully tested the first deep space communicationsnetwork modeled on the Internet, using it to transmit images to and from aspacecraft 20 million miles from Earth, it was announced on Tuesday.

"Thisis the first step in creating a totally new space communications capability, aninterplanetary Internet," said Adrian Hooke, leader of the team thatperformed the feat and manager of space-networking architecture, technology andstandards at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

NASA andVint Cerf, a vice president at Google,in Mountain View, Calif., who is often called the father of the Internet,partnered 10 years ago to develop the software protocol used for space transmissions,called Disruption-Tolerant Networking, or DTN. The DTN sends information usinga method that differs from the terrestrial Internet's Transmission-ControlProtocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) communication suite, which Cerfco-designed.

TheInterplanetary Internet must be robust enough to withstand delays, disruptionsand disconnections in space. Glitches can happen when a spacecraft moves behinda planet, or when solar storms and long communication delays occur. Forinstance, the delay in sending or receiving data from Mars takes betweenthree-and-a-half to 20 minutes, even at the speedof light.

If adisruption occurs in the pathway along which the information travels, each nodein the network will hang on to its information until it's safe to communicate,unlike our Internet on Earth, which just discardsthe data packets.

The newnetwork could ease communication with distant spacecraft and enable new kindsof space missions.

"Inspace today, an operations team must manually schedule each link and generateall the commands to specify which data to send, when to send it, and where tosend it," said Leigh Torgerson, manager of the DTN Experiment OperationsCenter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Withstandardized DTN, this can all be done automatically."

The DTN wastested during a month-long experiment in October, using NASA's Epoxi spacecraft(currently on a mission to encounter Comet Hartley 2 in two years) and nineother "nodes," all on the ground at JPL.

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