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Space Blog

The future of the Internet in space

A Channel 4 news report on Sunday 9th October 2011 covered SSTL’s work towards the creation of an Interplanetary Internet (IPN) system that could change the way space exploration is conducted. The development of the Internet originally aimed to connect the world, now one of its founders, Vint Cerf (Google Chief Internet Evangelist) is pioneering something much bigger: a network whose reach could extend further than our solar system and potentially allow transfer of data to and from spacecraft travelling to stars 30 trillion miles, or 4 light years, away. Our terrestrial Internet requires few resends between nodes and data can be quickly resent end-to-end. This works well on Earth where everyone is significantly less than a light second apart and where a constant connection can be provided. However, the bigger the distances involved in space travel, the longer the data takes and the harder it is to guarantee a connection as it can be blocked by the sun and planets. This means that there can be delays of hours, or even days in the transfer of data. The use of delay tolerant networking rectifies this. Under this system, each node stores data until it can be forwarded to the next node allowing greater use of available contact periods, greater accuracy in the transfer of data, and shorter overall delays in data delivery. In SSTL’s current work, delay tolerant networking could be used to ensure maximum contact between Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and Earth. In constellations of satellites, each individual acts as a node, and can communicate with each other using Inter-Satellite Links (ISLs) to send data via the quickest route. Data might be sent to a geostationary satellite that has contact with a ground station, providing more opportunities to get data downlinked. This system is faster and much more cost effective if cost is considered as data per pound or euro - it’s more science for your money. Also, the network can be fully automated, reducing operation costs. Using delay tolerant networking to send and receive data reliably, and as soon as possible, could be particularly useful for defence and disaster monitoring, by reducing the delay between the satellite acquiring data and then waiting for its orbit to bring it within contact with its groundstation so that the data can be downlinked.
UK-DMC in testing at RAL
UK-DMC (Credit RAL)
In 2003, CLEO, a Cisco router on a LEO satellite was launched onboard SSTL’s UK"“DMC-1 satellite and is still in use after eight years in orbit. Working together and using Internet technology to prototype the future Interplanetary Internet, NASA Glenn Research Center, SSTL and Cisco Systems were the first to evaluate the delay-tolerant networking bundle protocol in space. CLEO was a prototype for the concept of IPN, and was followed by the launch of Intelsat’s IRIS geostationary satellite in 2009. Despite discussions as early as 1998, IPN is only now becoming a reality. A prototype node is already on the International Space Station and an interplanetary Internet system could potentially be in operation for interplanetary exploration by 2018/2020.





03 November 20110 Comments1 Comment

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