NASA tests a deep-space Internet

Using a networking approach that allows for communications between nodes that work intermittently, NASA has successfully tested a deep-space network modeled on the Internet, the space agency has announced.

NASA in October transmitted images to and from the Epoxi spacecraft located about 20 million miles from Earth using Disruption-Tolerant Networking, in which routers and nodes can hold data when connectivity is lost, delivering that data when connectivity is regained.

The approach allows a network to operate despite disruptions caused when, for example, a spacecraft is on the far side of a planet or moon, agency officials said.

NASA started on the project 10 years ago with Vint Cerf, one of the designers of the Internet and now a vice president at Google. The project has continued under the direction of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with volunteers from Google, Intel and Mitre.

"This is the first step in creating a totally new space communications capability, an interplanetary Internet," Adrian Hooke, team lead and manager of space-networking architecture, technology and standards for NASA, said in a release.

DTN differs from the Internet's TCP/IP, in that it does not require a continuous connection between nodes. Instead, each network node holds data until it can connect with its destination, according to NASA.

The monthlong series of tests was conducted using NASA's Deep Space Network, connecting with Epoxi, which is on a mission to encounter Comet Hartley 2 in two years and functions as one of the nodes on the network.

The next round of testing, scheduled for summer 2009, will involve DTN software to be loaded on board the International Space Station.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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