Vint Cerf helps NASA create a ‘solar system internet’

22 Jun 2016

NASA has debuted the early stages of a ‘solar system internet’ with a Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) service hosted on the International Space Station (ISS).

What happens when you get interference on your internet line? It slows. What if that interference is a planet in between two internet nodes in the solar system? You’re in trouble.

That’s why NASA is working on a new system for an internet in space, planning for a time when nodes will be dotted further and further from Earth.

NASA, with the help of Vint Cerf (one of the fathers of the internet), has announced the DTN service, which operates in a pretty logical way, using a “store and forward” technique. This means data sent across the network is broken down at one node, and sent on in small parts, before being rebuilt at its destination.

It’s a bit like downloading torrents, which, if you pay attention to your download client, take in fragments of the file(s) you’re downloading, grabbing whatever it can when it can, before reassembling the full file(s).

This differs from traditional internet protocols, which require all nodes in the transmission path to be available during the same timeframe for successful data transmission.

The basics behind how a DTN service will work in space

The basics behind how a DTN service will work in space

“Our experience with DTN on the space station leads to additional terrestrial applications, especially for mobile communications, in which connections may be erratic and discontinuous,” said Cerf.

“In some cases, battery power will be an issue and devices may have to postpone communication until battery charge is adequate. These notions are relevant to the emerging internet of things.”

The ISS is essentially the first node of the planned-for ‘solar system internet’. It will immediately enhance mission support applications aboard the station.

So the internet of things has breached the Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe the machines really are coming

Solar system image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic