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Cerf: 2011 will be proving point for 'InterPlanetary Internet'

In a Q&A with Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf discusses how 2011 will be a key year for a 'disruption tolerant' Internet that uses spacecraft for nodes

By , Network World
February 18, 2011 11:58 AM ET

Network World - Vint Cerf takes his title of Chief Internet Evangelist for Google seriously. He is knee-deep in several projects to bring the next versions of the Internet into the world -- or in some cases, beyond the world and into the solar system. One of his pet projects includes an extraterrestrial Internet that uses a protocol other than IP.

Cerf sat down with Network World's Cisco Subnet editor, Julie Bort, at the annual Digital Broadband Migration conference in Boulder, Colo., to discuss the InterPlanetary Internet, cloud computing standards, the Semantic Web and other topics.

PART 1: Cerf: Future of Internet doesn't include an IPv7

FULL INTERVIEW: Podcast and transcript

About a year ago, you began talking a lot about a concept called the "InterPlanetary Internet" stretching the Internet so that it can reach into outer space. What can you share about that project?

It's happening. It's not using the Internet Protocol. It's using the new Bundle Protocol that was developed as part of the more general notion of delay-and-disruption-tolerant network.

We recognized as far back as 1998 that the traditional Internet design had implicit in it the assumption that there was good connectivity, and relatively low latency, whereas in a space environment, when you are talking at interplanetary distances, you have speed-of-light delays and those can be minutes to days. We need this new Bundle Protocol to overcome the latencies and all the disconnects that occur in space, from celestial motion [and from] orbiting satellites.

The Bundle Protocols are running onboard the International Space Station. They are running in a number of locations around the United States in the NASA labs and in academic environments. There's a thing called the Bundle Bone, which is like the IPv6 backbone, that is linking a lot of these research activities to one another. There's at least one rather experimental implementation of the Bundle Protocol for the Android operating system, but it's not production quality, so it really needs to be redone/revisited.

There is a spacecraft called EPOXI that used to be called Deep Impact spacecraft (it fired a penetrator into a comet a few years ago in order to expose the interior for spectrographic analysis). The spacecraft is still in orbit around the sun and it just visited the Comet Hartley 2 in November 2010. We've uploaded the InterPlanetary protocols to that spacecraft and we've done testing of them at approximately 80 light seconds.

So during 2011, our initiative is to "space qualify" the interplanetary protocols in order to standardize them and make them available to all the space-faring countries. If they chose to adopt them, then potentially every spacecraft launched from that time on will be interwoven from a communications point of view. But perhaps more important, when the spacecraft have finished their primary missions, if they are still functionally operable -- they have power, computer, communications -- they can become nodes in an interplanetary backbone. So what can happen over time, is that we can literally grow an interplanetary network that can support both man and robotic exploration.

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