August 17, 2009

Technology aimed at connecting the cosmos

NASA and Ohio University scientists say they are developing standards and protocols for what might someday be called the interplanetary network.

Although the Internet pervades life on Earth, astronauts and satellites patrolling space can't communicate using that service because planets, moons or even sunspots frequently interfere with Internet protocols, making service spotty.

In space you might need to talk to Mars, but it's on the other side of the sun, said Ohio University Associate Professor Shawn Ostermann. You may not be able to send a message there for another day, a week or a month.

Ostermann and OU Professor Hans Kruse have been working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland for three years to solve the problem. The result is new software called Delay Tolerant Networking.

DTN is actually more like e-mail than the Web, Kruse said. It is designed to automate the delivery of information to spacecraft. The software already is running experimentally on the international space station, Kruse said, but the team is moving closer to implementing it for NASA deep space missions.

The entire project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.