Wed
Nov 19 2008 6:13pm

JPL Sends E-mail to Spacecraft: FIRST!!!11

NASA announced today that it has successfully tested a “deep space communications network modeled on the Internet.” In the last month, dozens of images have gone back and forth between the Jet Propulsion Lab in California and the Epoxi spacecraft, about 20 million miles away. 20 million miles. My wireless blinks out on particularly windy days, nevermind solar flares and spacedust, but NASA has worked out a neat protocol called “Disruption-Tolerant Networking” (DTN). Unlike the Earth Internet, which is a series of tubes, DTN utilizes a series of nodes that know to keep information until it can be safely passed along to the next node—“store and forward,” the article says, so your ship can go behind a moon or an asteroid or could pass between nodes and your data would still get through. In the tests, these nodes were actually all on the ground at JPL, but the idea is that “Mars landers, orbiters and ground mission-operations centers” could all act as nodes for DTN communications. The lag time is between three and a half and twenty minutes, but when you think about it, that’s not bad for e-mailing Mars.

[Image of adorable little data packet and mommy-node by Flickr user helixblue, licenced under Creative Commons and loled by me.]

5 comments
Christina Harcar
1. spotgloss
Interesting, and useful, I guess. I wish someone could adapt the thinking behind the nodes-type relay to store solar energy constantly in space (where you can always get it) for transfer to the power grid when we need it and there's no cloud cover to block the transfer. I'd like "disruption-tolerant" energy...

What data are they sending 20 million miles anyway? News on who won dancing with the stars? Spoilers on novels that we can't ship outside the solar system? Watchmen trailer?
'nother Mike
2. 'nother Mike
Hi, Megan. I know I should be used to it by now, but . . . the internet protocols are far from a series of tubes -- in fact, the intent of the original design was to allow for breakdowns. As for email, the protocols have always been store-and-forward (disruption tolerant). In the bad old days, network breakdowns were more common, and email was expected to have to deal with disruptions, even days in length. The bad old days were just 25 years or so ago, incidentally -- when I was one of the folks at BBN working on the Internet.

I guess what I'm trying to say is to pay attention to the phrase “deep space communications network modeled on the Internet.” It isn't unlike the Internet -- it is very much like the internet.
Megan Messinger
4. thumbelinablues
'nother Mike @ 2, I was excited to see how similar Space Internet is to the Earth Internet we know and love! The tubes thing was tongue-in-cheek.

It's so cool that you were working on it in the early days, though. :0)
Madeline Ferwerda
5. MadelineF
I wonder if they fixed the bugs that allow bad stuff (spam etc) on TCPIP? I've heard it would be possible to make a better internet if we could start again from ground zero, and here it sounds like that's what they're doing.

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