NASA Researchers Quarrel Over How To Network Outer Space

July 22, 2005

The Internet's protocol has become a single standard for almost all telecommunications--almost all telecommunications on Earth, that is. But how about the rest of the solar system?

Extending IP to outer space is a powerfully attractive idea, one that would put the entire range of Internet software at the disposal of NASA and researchers everywhere.

Scientists in terrestrial laboratories could directly operate the instruments aboard spacecraft and rovers. NASA spacecraft could share bandwidth with ones launched by other countries, all using a common communications protocol.

If NASA could just stop reinventing the communications wheel every mission, it could save money and get better software by buying off-the-shelf networking ger and programs. But as enthusiastic as one group of researchers within NASA is, another has concluded that the use of the Internet protocols in space--at least deep space--will simply never work.

And this camp has some very well-known people on its side, including, surprisingly enough, Vinton Cerf, who, 30 years ago, helped write the Internet protocol. According to Cerf and these NASA researchers, using IP to chat with, say, Mars-orbiting craft 200 million kilometers away, may be impossible.

The question of how to network outer space isn't an academic one. NASA's mission to Mars is looming, and the agency is running out of time to figure out which group is right.

Source: IEEE

Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed by United Press International

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