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Deep-Space Internet

NASA has successfully tested a new communication network that was modeled using the Internet as a basis. Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) used software called Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN) to transmit data from a NASA space craft to earth. This new method for space communication could be the first step towards an interplanetary Internet, according to Adrian Hooke at NASA. 

Sending data through space has up until now been difficult, and each operations team has had to “manually schedule each link and generate all the commands to specify which data to send, when to send it, and where to send it” (Leigh Torgerson, manager of the DTN-project at JPL). The Internet uses TCP/IP (Transmission-Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) to send data, but DTN differs from this on key points. Unlike TCP/IP, DTN does not assume a end-to-end connection. If a destination path cannot be found, the data packets are not discarded, but rather stored in the network node until it can be safely sent to another node. As each node stores the information before it forwards it, the data will not be lost due to disruptions and disconnections. This means that the processes that now has to be done manually can be automated without fear of loosing data. 

This test is the first in a series of demonstrations intended to qualify the system for further use in future space missions. The researchers hope that over the next few years, this technology will enable new types of space exploration such as complex missions involving multiple landed, mobile and orbiting spacecraft. 

Artist concept of interplanetary internet. Image credit: NASA/JPL

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November 20, 2008 - Posted by | Astronomy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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