Disruption tolerant networking to demonstrate Internet in space

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Interplanetary internet could become a reality, following a collaboration between NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Science Mission Directorates.

The duo is set to demonstrate Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) – a technology that sends information in a similar way to the Internet. Information is put into DTN bundles, which are sent through space and ground networks to its destination.

The Science Mission Directorate intends to incorporate DTN into future missions and has identified the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission as the first key opportunity to demonstrate this technology.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, first tested DTN during a science mission to a comet in 2008. That demonstration proved out the capability of DTN as part of the Deep Impact – EPOXI mission, says NASA.

PACE will take an important next step in using DTN as part of daily operations.

“DTN represents a shift in how data will get delivered in the future. I’m delighted PACE will become the first science mission to employ DTN,” said David Israel, Exploration and Space Communications Projects Division Architect at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Targeted to launch in the early 2020s, the PACE mission intends to advance scientists’ ability to assess the health of Earth’s oceans by measuring the distribution of phytoplankton, tiny plants and algae that sustain the marine food web. It also aims to continue systematic records of key atmospheric variables associated with air quality and Earth’s climate.

The decision to infuse DTN on a space platform comes just months after NASA engineers demonstrated the technology from the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica – a highly remote location with limited communication infrastructure. According to NASA, the demonstration showed that it could operate ‘internet style’ between two endpoints within two different networks that do not have a continuous path between them.

DTN could become a communication necessity for all types of terrestrial applications. Any remote location on Earth that has limited network connectivity is a candidate for DTN, Israel said.

NASA plans to build out a Solar System Internet with international partners, beginning with NASA’s Near Earth Network, Space Network and Deep Space Network, Israel added. Both the Solar System Internet concept and DTN are part of NASA’s Decade of Light initiative, through which the agency is developing and refining next-generation communications and navigation technologies for use in future science and exploration missions.

Exploration missions will use DTN to expand the network to the Moon, allowing communication between surface and orbiting elements and with Earth, according to NASA.

Author
Bethan Grylls

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