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New Media in (Outer) Space: Additional Reading Summary

A Better Network for Outer Space – By Brittany Sauser

Astronauts & robotic spacecraft presently stay connected to Earth via point-to-point radio links, specifically made for each new mission. Google’s vice president Vint Cerf designed the networking protocols that launched the Internet is looking to change this, though; he wants to put this same type of network in outer space. In hopes of making this a reality, he is currently working with NASA and MITRE Corporation on the Interplanetary Internet project. The project was set to be tested in 2009 aboard the International Space Station.

In an interview with Technology Review, Cerf further explains the project, where he notes that it began 10 years ago at the time of the interview (10/27/2008). He notes that one problem with space communication has been the “limited use of standards.” New communication software tends to have to be written every time a new spacecraft is launched, making it inefficient. Thus, the project was created to help develop a set of communication standards in space, much like ones already being used on the Internet.

One of the main challenges Cerf found in building this network is the delay time. Because of the vast distance in space between planets, it can take long periods of time for information to travel. Another major problem he found is that planets are constantly moving and rotating. Because of this, communication can not only be delayed, but also disrupted. Because of these dilemmas, part of the project involved designing a “delay- and disruption-tolerant networking system (DTN).” So far, no new equipment has had to be launched into space in order to facilitate this new network; only new software has had to be uploaded to already existing spacecraft.

These new standardized protocols could enable better communication between spacecraft launched by all nations in space. Over time, as new missions are launched, a better backbone for the system will start to be created. Cerf notes that, “every time you put up a new mission, you basically are putting up another potential node in the network.”

The Origins and basics of the Interplanetary Internet Project – By Vint Cerf

1. Node

If this video, Cerf notes that the Internet’s utility is in part a consequence of the standardization of communication protocols, making it easy for anyone from anywhere to instantly connect to the Internet. Because of this, Cerf and his team asked theirselves what type of standardization would be beneficial within the context of space? He explains that in 1964, the Deep Space Network was built, which consist of 3 antennas (one in California, one in Australia, and one in Spain) in varying locations. As the Earth rotates, at any one time, one of the antennas should be able to see a large amount of the solar system & interact with spacecraft. But, each time a new space craft is launched, the communications system must be tailored to this new space craft. Thus, Cerf and his team is looking for a more efficient way of communicating with spacecraft.

2. Frequency

The data rate that information can be moved at from spacecrafts to antennas on Earth is currently very low, as a result of the spacecrafts having little power and little antennas. To help boost power for new spacecraft, the project is looking into whether or not current spacecraft already launched can be used to help facilitate communication between Earth and space. The common answer has been “no,” since there is no standard set of communication protocols between the spacecrafts. But, over the past 20 years, there have been small attempts at standardizing certain parts of the spacecraft communication systems. There are many different levels this can be done at, with the 3 typical levels being: the bottom level of  “actual transmission over radio length,” 2nd layer being “link management,” and the 3rd level up being the network level, consisting of routing traffic. The 1st layer of radio transmission has been standardized. Furthermore they are also beginning to standardize the 2nd layer of link management. But, they have not been able to standardize too much above this 2nd level.

3. Standardization

Here, he talks about the theory that with more standardization comes the ability to more easily use previous spacecraft within the scopes of the new space mission. He uses an example of 2 rovers that were sent to Mars, which has radios attached in order to send information between the rovers and the Deep Space Networks antennas. But, these radios had to be shut down after 20 minutes of use, otherwise they would overheat. Three orbiters were surrounding Mars, though, that, because of standardization, allowed the Mars rovers to send information to the orbiters, which could then be sent to the DSN antennas at higher speeds & longer periods of time.

Vint Cerf Mods Android for Interplanetary Interwebs – By Cade Metz

This article discusses Cerf’s work in trying to bring his Interplanetary Interwebs protocol to mobile networks on Earth. At first, Cerf and his team had tried to make his Interplanetary Interwebs protocol work using the Internet TCP/IP protocol, noting that it did not work because of, “a little problem called the speed of light” and the rotation of planets. Instead, the created and launched the Delay-Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol. A main difference between TCP/IP and DTN is that, “unlike TCP/IP, DTN does not assume a continuous connection.” With DTN, if there are delays in transmission, nodes will not send out information until there is a safe connection.

Now, Cerf and his team is looking to bring DTN to earth. It has been tested in Sweden through using laptops in moving vehicles. Furthermore, the protocol has already been added to, “Google’s Android open source mobile stack as an application platform – ie it sits on top of the OS.” Cerf sees DTN helping out with mobile connections, since it is a “dense and hostile environment,” as a way to increase coverage.

NASA Launches Astronaut Internet in Space – By Tariq Malik

As of January 22, 2010, astronauts on the International Space Station have a live Internet connection, and have even been using Twitter.

While astronauts have used Twitter during space missions before, the tweets were dispached through Mission Control and posted by a third party.

The space Internet uses the station’s high-speed Ku-band antenna, making the Internet functioning whenever the station is connected through this. “To surf the Web, astronauts can use a station laptop to control a desktop computer on Earth. It is that ground computer that has the physical connection to the Internet.”

NSSA Applauds Presidents Commitment to the Mission of NASA and the Role of Space in Providing for the Future

In this article, the “National Space Society applauds President Obama for his expression of firm commitment for human spaceflight, and for moving forward in refining the administration’s plan for space exploration” during his speech on April 15, 2010.

Within his plans, Obama mentioned the importance of extending the life of the International Space Station. He also explained the importance of the, “critical role of breakthrough technologies in enabling NASA and our nation to create the future we wish to see come to pass.”

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