Daily Debrief: Interplanetary Internet a possibility
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>> Welcome to the Daily Debrief. I'm CNET's Kara Tsuboi, here with CNET News Webware.com editor, Rafe Needleman. And this is the stuff out of a science fiction novel, truly.
>> It is.
>> We're talking about Internet networking in outer space.
>> Yeah, well if you're going to space, you need the Internet, right?
>> Obviously. Gotta do some online shopping.
>> Actually what is happening here is more important than that. It's about building a reliable, scalable, easy to develop for platform that the spacecraft can use to transmit their scientific and other data back and forth.
>> Why can't we just use the model that we use on earth up in space? Why won't that work?
>> Well, the space -- the earth model is -- assumes a pretty robust fabric of connected nodes.
>> Where you have a device at one end sending to -- information to a device at the other end, and the both the nodes are kind of responsible for the communication. And the ones in the middle, while the Internet is very smarty and routes data around, are not very robust if you don't have an end-to-end connection.
>> As the people I talked to at NASA said about this, packets drop on the floor. If there's no straight path, if there's no path at all between point A and point B, the communication just doesn't happen. And in space, where you've got satellites and orbiters and things picking up data and just transmitting a lot of scientific data, maybe without the storage to hold it all, they can't have that.
>> So what NASA is doing -- and this is a part of a long, ten-year process -- is they're building something called the "Disruption Tolerant Network," or DTN, which assumes a different type of fabric of intermediate relay stations or routers. And what they do is they're storing forward. They take data in and they hang on to it until they know they have a solid connection to the next step, and then they transmit it.
>> And I imagine it has something to do with the distance, the big distances in space between these nodes that are connecting.
>> It has to do with both distance and orbital mechanics. It is --
>> Oh, that.
>> It -- well, first of all, I mean your right. I mean it takes a long time. It can take minutes or hours for information to get from point A to anywhere else because you're transmitting over, you know, light hours or light minutes.
>> But also everything's moving. So the communications have to be scheduled because the antennas have to point at each other. And all the devices have to be aware of where their receivers are, and what can go wrong. And what happens is when a receiver then picks up this data, it sends a node back, and the sender of it -- you know, in this hop of, this chain of communications -- doesn't release custody of the data until it knows it's been transmitted successfully. So what you have is a fabric. What NASA's building is a network of disruption tolerant, fault tolerant, lag tolerant intermediates that can kind of guarantee the transmission of data from point A to point B, which the Internet, while it actually works in practice, doesn't do that in theory. It's not --
>> You don't get that guarantee.
>> No, you don't.
>> Right. Absolutely. So they're building this fabric on the ground right now, but when do we actually get to take it to space and test it and see if works.
>> Well, they just did test it.
>> Oh, good. Okay.
>> Now, they just finished the test. The spacecraft called EPOXI, which is an acronym of acronyms, E-P-O-X-I --
>> That was the spaceship that dropped the deep impact probe off to smash into the comet in 2005.
>> It's looping back around to shoot back to the comet in 2010 to do some more visual readings and stuff like that. But in that kind of hibernation and sleep cycle, they've reconfigured the radios to be a node on this DTN.
>> Oh, cool.
>> And they're testing it --
>> As -- with sending simulated pictures to see if it works -- if the protocol works as advertised.
>> Uh huh. Okay.
>> So they just did that test, and it was a success. It was the only node in space. All the other nine nodes of this ten-node test network were on -- here on earth.
>> On the ground. Okay.
>> But apparently it's working, and they hope to build DTN networks into all the spacecraft that will involved in future moon missions, about 2015-16, and the Mars sample return, which is going to be a massive undertaking, a multi-national undertaking, both, you know, sending spacecraft to Mars, getting them off there and back here, and all the data that's going to come back, probably in about 2025.
>> Okay. Cool. That's when we could really see a big network out in space, many different nodes all talking to each other.
>> We hope so.
>> We hope so.
>> We just -- yeah.
>> Very cool. Thank you so much.
>> CNET News, Webware.com editor and closet space nerd --
>> Oh, yeah.
>> -- Rafe Needleman. I'm Kara Tsuboi. We'll see you on the next daily debrief.
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