Google and NASA are Working on an Interplanetary Internet

Article written: 28 Oct , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

[/caption]In an initiative energized by Google Vice-President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, the International Space Station could be testing a brand new way of communicating with Earth. In 2009, it is hoped that the ISS will play host to an Interplanetary Internet prototype that could standardize communications between Earth and space, possibly replacing point-to-point single use radio systems customized for each individual space mission since the beginning of the Space Age.

This partnership opens up some exciting new possibilities for the future of communicating across vast distances of the Solar System. Manned and robotic space craft will be interconnected via a robust interplanetary network without the problems associated with incompatible communication systems…

The project started 10 years ago as an attempt to figure out what kind of technical networking standards would be useful to support interplanetary communication,” Cerf said in a recent interview. “Bear in mind, we have been flying robotic equipment to the inner and outer planets, asteroids, comets, and such since the 1960’s. We have been able to communicate with those robotic devices and with manned missions using point-to-point radio communications. In fact, for many of these missions, we used a dedicated communications system called the Deep Space Network (DSN), built by JPL in 1964.”

Indeed, the DSN has been the backbone of interplanetary communications for decades, but an upgrade is now required as we have a growing armada of robotic missions exploring everything from the surface of Mars to the outermost regions of the Solar System. Wouldn’t it be nice if a communication network could be standardized before manned missions begin moving beyond terrestrial orbit?

When we launch a spacecraft with a unique set of sensors onboard, we often end up writing special communication and application software that is adapted to that spacecraft’s sensor systems and manipulators,” Cerf said in response to the challenges space missions face each time they are designed.

The Internet uses standard TCP/IP protocols so billions of online entities are always compatible. Although there are limitations to the Internet, it has proven to be a highly flexible and scalable system, so with the help of Google, NASA hopes to push the Internet beyond Earth. “The Interplanetary Internet project is primarily about developing a set of communication standards and technical specifications to support rich networking in space environments,” Cerf added.

This all sounds very interesting, but the challenges with building such a system require some novel techniques. How do you deal with the limitation of the speed of light? After all, it can take light 40 minutes to travel to-and-from Mars, and up to 12 hours to Pluto and back. How do you cater for planetary rotation? The transmitters/receivers won’t always be on the correct side of the planet. What happens if a satellite signal is blocked by a planet, the Sun or a moon?

Vint Cerf says the disruption of data transmission has to be confronted with a delay- and disruption-tolerant networking system, otherwise known as DTN. “It will allow us to maintain communications more effectively, getting much more data because we don’t have to be in direct line of sight with the ultimate recipient in order to transfer data,” he said.

DTN will be based on store-and-forward methods used by TCP/IP systems; if there is a disruption in signal, the transmitting station will hold data packets until the signal is re-established. However, DTN will be more robust, catering for long transmission lag-times (such as the many-hour light transmission times between Earth and the outer Solar System). “We have to cope with the fact that there is a really high potential for delay and disruption in the system,” he added.

Standard TCP/IP protocol should also work seamlessly with the DTN, allowing planetary missions to have their own distributed Internet whilst using DTN as a link through interplanetary space.

This has obvious applications for future manned missions to Mars, after all, can you imagine the first colonists without their own blog?

Source: Technology Review


16 Responses

  1. Steve says

    Why not have multiple satellites capable of transmitting data to multiple locations to ignore the effects of delay. Can simply reroute the packets being sent to essentially another hub to be sent on to the receiving spacecraft

  2. tacitus says

    Quantum entanglement…..?

    (Just kidding)

  3. Marcony says

    Subspace communications 🙂
    Anybody watches StarGate SG-1?!

  4. Feenixx says

    facitus says “Quantum Entanglement” and adds “just kidding”.
    Why “just kidding”?

    It seems the time is approaching to seriously study the feasibility of using non-local quantum correlation effects.

    Intuitively, I’d call it Science Fiction.
    Here are some more technologies I would have called Science Fiction when I was a leaving cert student (1968/69):

    – digital watches and calculators with liquid crystal display, running for years on a battery the size of a shirt button (what are liquid crystalls, anyway?)
    – CDs and DVDs
    – ion thrust rocket engines
    – functional machines, where each moving part is a single molecule (aka Nano Engineering)
    etc…etc…

    non-local quantum correlation has already been observed, occasionally…

  5. Hunnter says

    Well Feenixx, there is that test thats supposed to be happening soon on ISS to test QE to see if it does work over larger distances. (and what will happen with less gravity too i guess)

    There really does need to be some more research done with it though.
    There has to be some way to send information.
    Often, people say that you’d need to verify that you got the correct information using classical means, but why would you?
    Why not just use QE again to send back a hash value of whatever was sent?
    It would require some crazy complex computer designs to build a quantum communicator, but it seems feasible in my head, if someone actually put some money and time behind it.
    (Unless of course i am missing something.)

  6. George Duke says

    Google, please save us from Microsoft!
    I want an Android operating system running on my computers by this time next year!

  7. Denis says

    I don’t completely understand the essence of QA. Does it actually allow to transfer information with speed which is higher then speed of light?

  8. TheMan says

    yes go quantum entanglement!!! instant communication with out the silly speed of light in the way

  9. Feenixx says

    Denis,
    the essence is (simplified):
    – two particles can be non-locally correlated
    – this means: if you make a change to one of them, the change will also happen instantly to the other, no matter how far they are separated from each other

    Looking at it intuitively, this should allow transfer of information without any delay whatsoever.

    In real life, there are many problems which have no solution yet. Even pinpointing them amounts to material for several PhD dissertations. The problems are related to: “Observer”, “Frame of Reference” and “Relativity of Time”.

  10. Sci-Fi Si says

    “The project started 10 years ago as an attempt to figure out what kind of technical networking standards ” Yikes!

    QE would be very nice indeed, however there was a UT article on this recently saying the latest lab experiments have only transmitted over a distance of 1-2cm

    On a slightly less Sci-Fi note. If solar positioning and plaetary rotation were taken into account a node could transmit packets along the lines of sight using technology peer-to-peer networks with a bit of pythagorus and sin, cos to see which node would be best to transmit through. This would be far more robust and if a node is unable to transmit directly it can relay through others. A nessessary characteristic of this protocol would be its accurate position in the solar system.

    Once a node can no longer transmit to its destination directly it can relay through a satellite that is in a better solar-graphic position to do so, either directly or indirectly to its destination.

    With compression and encryption it could be deemed safe to relay packets through foreign networks.

  11. Knowmonger says

    Welcome to Interplanetary “2 girls 1 cup” !! lol

  12. Chris says

    Umm – The Light Of Other Days comes to mind…

  13. Hunnter says

    @Knowmonger:

    Make that 3 girls 1 torus

  14. Si says

    .com.mars
    .co.uk.earth

    anyone?!

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