Tech UPTechnologyNASA prepares the planetary Internet

NASA prepares the planetary Internet

“The time has come to think beyond Earth. We have tobring the Internet to any corner of the Solar System, and even further “, says Vinton Cerf, one of the father of the global computer web and creator of TCP-IP, a basic transmission protocol of the Internet that took its first steps in 1973, now 30 years ago. visionary of our time, who actively collaborates with NASA to launch the projectInterPlanet(IPN), points out that the next missions to Mars will need a much safer and more powerful communication channel with the Earth than those used so far.

Recent NASA space missions, such as the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter, suffered numerous signal transmission and reception problems before being permanently lost in the vastness of the cosmos. At NASA they could not pinpoint the causes of failure. It is true that other missions were more successful, such as the one carried out by the Sojourner rover, which transported the Pathfinder birth, and which obtained spectacular images of the Martian surface. However, the data flow it sent to our planet was only 300 bits per second, when any home computer is capable of doing so at much higher speeds.

In Cerf’s opinion, the InterPlanet could solve these limitations, given that the system would achieve transmission orders of11,000 bits per second, a data transfer speed still lower than that of a home computer, but enough to send very detailed and extremely high quality images of Martian landscapes.

With the IPN operational between Earth and Mars, an engine more powerful than the Sojourner rover could sendhigh resolution imagesfor scientific uses or for commercial and leisure purposes. For example, the videos obtained by the SUV would facilitate the creation of scenarios so real that they could immerse the public in virtual trips to the red planet.

If the planned plans are fulfilled, the InterPlanet will be able to provide people on the street with the thrills of space travel. Technology will open the doors of the cosmos to millions of people. Any Internet user will be able to visit the rings of Saturn from their computer screen or fly over the gigantic spot that adorns the gaseous atmosphere of Jupiter. However, the true importance of the IPN system lies in its reliability in maintaining an umbilical cord of communication between space probes and ground control bases.

In addition to eliminating data transmission delays suffered by long-distance space missions, the InterPlanet will avoid the frequent signal “drops” suffered by transmissions in the cosmos, a fairly frequent contingency that must be solved, especially if It intends to send astronauts to Mars with all the security guarantees that a mission of such caliber requires.

If plans to create the IPN (InterPlanet) communications network are successful, anyone will be able to take a visual tour of the Solar System on their PC screen. In the image, Saturn.

NASA, Miter Corp, Sparta, Global Science & Technology and various researchers from the universities of Los Angeles and CalTech are actively collaborating in the preliminary studies of the future interplanetary network. This powerful communication web will be able to solve the possible signal obstruction between the transmitter and the receiver, a problem that is due to the rotation of the planets themselves and their elliptical movement around the Sun. The enormous network of links along and width of the Solar System will allow the contact between planets to be continuous and safe.

The first rung of the 21st century space odyssey will be theconquest of mars, a neighboring planet to ours that from past times has triggered our fantasy. If in the famous novel The War of the Worlds, the writer HG Wells described the adventures of an army of Martians that attacked the Earth, in Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury narrated the sad end of the civilizations that would have populated a fantastic world, full of canals that ran from pole to pole. Although other authors also insisted on describing the creatures that inhabit Mars, the truth is that exploration probes have denied the presence of little green men on its surface. Yet the orange Martian landscapes continue to fascinate us now with the same force that they did a quarter of a century ago, when the Viking lander sent us magnificent postcards from the red plateaus of Mars.

Just over a year ago, the Mars Odyssey probe detected signs ofhydrogenon the neighboring planet, which could suggest the presence ofaquifers in its subsoil. “Our plan is to keep track of water as it is critical to life,” said Scott Hubbard, director of the Mars program at NASA. “Our emphasis – said Hubbard – is on science, and specifically on knowing if there ever was life on Mars or if there is now.” However, it is very likely that this unknown is not resolved until the first manned mission lands its ship in the new world.

While that moment arrives, NASA experts are working on the first stage of the InterPlanet (IPN), which will consist of building asmall local network on the red planet. Cerf believes that it is possible that this local Internet can be based on the TCP-IP protocols, the same ones that he invented 30 years ago, and that are still used to send information packets over the network. This Martian “intranet” will facilitate local communication in a similar way to how it is carried out on Earth.

But if the TCP-IP protocol is valid for the Martian environment, it is useless when sending information packets from one planet to another. The reason is the enormous delay that is produced by the great distances to be bridged. Depending on the movement of Mars around the Sun and its changing distance from Earth, a signal launched from the red planet would take approximately 6 to 20 minutes to reach us. The response to that message would return to Mars at the same intervals. It goes without saying that to communicate with Pluto we would have to wait many hours. This lag would not prevent the sending of e-mails, although it would undermine the interactivity that characterizes the network.

To overcome the obstacles, NASA experts are working hard to develop a new protocol that will have to keep the network running even in the event that some data packets are lost during transmission. Vinton Cerf has proposed the so-called Parcel Transfer Protocol (PTP), which will be capable of storing, analyzing and forwarding information from one planet to another, using for this a series of links or “gateways” distributed along the long route Earth. -Mars.

“In the long term – says Cerf -, time synchronization will become the main challenge for interplanetary telecommunication engineers”. In this scenario, a good resource could be the use oflaser raysas a means of transmitting signals at high speed, a system that will surely speed up communications in the Solar System.

Once these problems have been solved, NASA and other space agencies will have to study how to structure the IPN, which implies establishing a reliable and continuous contact between the different gateways of the network, which will be deployed on satellites, planets and, probably, also on some asteroid. In any case, the most immediate challenge is to link Mars with Earth, and to achieve this, several minisatellites will have to be placed in an orbit 17,000 kilometers above the red planet and another larger satellite in a lower orbit.

The flotilla of minisatellites will act as a chain of gateways that will be in contact with the largest satellite, located at a lower orbital elevation. The antennas of this last device will receive the signals from the exploration robots and the colonists’ bases built in the stony and reddish landscapes of the new world. The set of orbiting satellites, the exploration rovers (which will also act as communications links) and the antennas of the Martian colonies themselves will constitute the “intranet” of the neighboring planet.

To complete this first stage, a kind of “intranet” must also be established on Earth, or local gateway, whose embryo could be the so-called “Deep Space Network” (DSN). Currently, this communication network with deep space is what facilitates radio transmissions with probes that explore the Solar System. With its huge data reception and transmission antennas, the three main bases of the DSN are located in California (United States), Australia and Spain.

In a second phase, the Martian “intranet” will contact other gateways located on satellites stationed at points in space midway between Earth and Mars. Meanwhile, NASA and other space agencies will have already located small “intranets” on the Moon and on the International Space Station (ISS). All these points scattered throughout the space will be in contact with the “Deep Space Network” (DSN) terrestrial. In its first phase, the InterPlanet will be able to maintain the flow of broadband data and video between Mars and Earth.

If the calendar allows it, the heads of the US space agency plan to send around 2005 theMarsat satellite, which will remain in a low orbit over the neighboring planet. It is likely that a few years later the constellation of the first minisatellites that will rotate in higher orbits around the red planet will be available.

Despite everything, the engineers remember that they will have to overcome another complex technological hurdle. It is about the maintenance and replacement offaulty satellitesthat have been anchored in remote regions of the Solar System. Given the enormous economic cost involved in moving heavy material into outer space, the components of these devices will have to be much more reliable and durable than the current ones.

There is also the problem ofhackersspace. The InterPlanet will be an umbilical cord between Earth and the first Earth settlers to inhabit Mars. Therefore, you will have to shield it against foreseeable hacker attacks. Maintaining its integrity and reliability will be vital to safeguarding the settlers’ own lives. Aware of the importance of security in the future IPN, scientists are developing shielding systems that are based on the “Secure Sckets Layer” (SSL) protocols, the same ones that are currently used to guarantee the inviolability of financial transactions on the Internet. .

Despite the great magnitude of the technological challenges posed by the implementation of the IPN system, its managers are already studying the creation of new Internet domains adapted to the space. For example: .mars (.marte), .earth (.earth) or .moon (.moon).

Once the network between Mars and Earth is up and running, the InterPlanet will extend its tentacles to other corners of the Solar System. Perhaps the next step is to establish a bridge with Jupiter and its moon Europa, a satellite that shows signs of hosting a liquid ocean under its icy surface.

“One of the things that has driven the search for life on Mars is the possible presence of water on that planet. Hence our interest in Europa, a Jovian moon that hides exciting secrets in its subsoil,” says Chad Edwards, head of Mars Network Office, a federal organization associated with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Next summer, this department of the US space agency plans to launch a prototype satellite that will interact with receivers located on the ground. If there are no major problems delaying the project, the basic infrastructure of the systemIPN could be up and running in 2010.

Fernando Cohnen

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