NASA plan takes the Internet into space and beyond

NASA’s Solar System Internet will accommodate the intricacies – and delays – of space communications

NASA this week said it was looking to build an ambitious Internet-like network that will support solar system-wide communication and navigation services.

From NASA: "Unlike the terrestrial internet, a future Solar System Internet (SSI) must be capable of accommodating intermittent connectivity, long or variable delays, asymmetric data rates, and high data loss rates. The underlying capability that enables the SSI is commonly referred to as Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN).

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According to NASA, the SSI will use what it called opportunistic and scheduled communications paths to optimize routing among nodes of the SSI, while maintaining low communications overhead and data processing load. NASA anticipates that all elements of its evolving Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) architecture will interface using the SSI. The new network will support:

  • Spacecraft and landed vehicles distributed across the Solar System;
  • The ground and space-based facilities and data communications assets of what are presently called the Near Earth Network (NEN), the Deep Space Network (DSN), and the Space Network (SN)
  • Data communications elements on and around bodies beyond Earth, including the intercommunications components of individual free flying spacecraft, collaborative constellations of spacecraft, or networks of landed vehicles;
  • Data relays/gateways in remote locations, such as orbiting the Moon and Mars. Planetary surface local and wide area networks (note that viewed in this context, the terrestrial Internet is subsumed in the SSI as a wide area network, NASA stated).

As part of the SSI effort, NASA said it wants to form a consortium of experts, known as the DTN Coordinating Group (DTN-CG) that will include members from academia, space systems companies, space communications services companies and the general supplier base of commercial space mission support equipment. The DTN-CG will serve as a worldwide body for propagating and deploying the DTN technologies supporting the SSI.

According to NASA this group will have the following roles:

1. Collaborate on specifying the technology and standards that will apply to the SSI;

2. Review and provide inputs into architectural trade studies across the elements of the SSI architecture to determine the optimum characteristics and protocols;

3. Exchange information on the availability or future availability of DTN-enabled ground and space product lines;

4. Contribute in the planning and participate in demonstrations performed on NASA's ground-based DTN Engineering Network and DTN-enabled flight systems, including utilization of the ISS as an international testbed;

5. Conduct or support R&D to develop innovative implementation technologies that can expedite the infusion of DTN into future interoperable space products.

In support of the SSI plan, NASA said it has initiated a Space DTN Project that involves the cooperative work of its major research Centers and also some of NASAs international partners. As part of NASA's support for the Project, it may make facilities available to test and demonstrate new capabilities, using a ground-based DTN Engineering Network (DEN).

Flight test and demonstration capabilities may also be available, using space-based testbeds, including spacecraft that are in their extended mission phases and may be made available for modest reprogramming. A major thrust of the project will be to use the International Space Station as an environment for the international development and deployment of DTN capabilities, and these facilities may be made available, NASA said.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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