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Possibility Of Internet Service In The Outer Space

Updated on October 22, 2011

The availability of Internet connection in the outer space is soon going to be one of the most important breakthroughs in the fields of astronomy and IT. A plan is designed especially to create a communication network in space and is ready to be launched. The programme would enable communication with spacecrafts, asteroids, satellites and planets. This project is the brainchild of Nasa and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of USA. It's going to be immensely helpful for the vast arena of space research.

Work on the idea started almost 50 years back when various countries sent their space missions to the mysterious yet fascinating solar system. At that time it was deemed important to communicate with the spacecrafts by using bi-directional radio connections in order to transfer instructions and for examining the data sent back to Earth.

This used to be done with the help of large Earth-based antennas as gateways like the Deep Space Network (DSN) made by Nasa. In the beginning, the protocols used in this mode of communication were separate for every mission but as more and more missions were launched, all utilised and shared the same ground infrastructure, the scientists started initiating standardised manner in which the information was being transferred.

The concept of Internet in space is an exploration of this standardisation. The DNS makes use of three research facilities strategically placed around the world to observe spacecrafts frequently as the Earth rotates. It is organised and made functionally available for Nasa by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The sub-department of JPL, known as the Inter Planetary Network (IPN), works to manage the programme for bringing Internet in space. With this, the project is also working on Mars Surveyor Programme which is aimed at supporting Mars global reconnaissance, surface exploration, sample return missions, robotic outposts and ultimate human exploration.


There is a requirement to build a communication system for this project as well, which would facilitate an up growth in data rates and connectivity between Mars and Earth. It would also formulate a navigational system to Mars which would provide much accurate information about the location while approaching Mars. The first major task for IPN would be to propose a gateway of communication on Mars and then to connect it with Earth. With this breakthrough, astronauts would be able to email their loved ones. However, one important aspect which needs to be kept in mind is that the time for roundtrip communication between Earth and Mars can range from eight minutes to about more than 40 minutes and would not be in seconds as it is on earth.

Thus, with the availability of standardised Internet protocols for organising, running and obtaining data from satellites, Nasa would also be capable of using more commercial software and hardware in order to design spacecrafts for scientific experiments and also to make them function. With better source of communication between Earth and space missions, this would also assist in abridging not only the expenditure of space missions' communication systems but also the time duration of the mission for present as well as future space science operations.

The basic idea behind using Internet is to connect and exchange the activities and available information between Earth and outer space. Such especially designed satellites are called gateways which would not only act as two functioning Internets but actually as a network, interlined by a store-and-forward overlay system. The overlay network would provide the major interconnecting pathway between the interplanetary spaces. Each of the Internets will consist of its own local gateway.

The concept of the gateways can be understood as of being the local Internet Service Providers (ISP), who enables us to access Internet through phone or the digital subscriber line etc. The location of the interplanetary gateways as a processing centre could be either on an earth-based station, on a planet's surface or on a spacecraft present in the orbit. The gateway will have two communication sides, one would be with the local Internet system and the other with the interplanetary overlay system through a radio or optical communications transceiver which is a radio equipment that transmits and receives.

The IPN is currently working to abridge the communication systems of the future space exploration missions. In this regard, efforts are being made to incorporate missions' own designed communications infrastructure for this purpose. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is exploring the creation of a Mars Exploration Gateway in order to join the Mars Network and the Internet. Nasa is planning to make this gateway accessible for the general public soon with the collaboration of the academia and industry. Like Earth, Internet could possibly commercialise space for the reasons of communication services, taking out the asteroids, for the operation of hotels located in the space or for tourism purposes.


There are various issues and problems in turning the concept of Internet in space into a reality. As the exploration of this programme increases, chances of possible complexities in coordinating the communication systems on Earth and in space will also increase. However, work is underway to resolve this situation.

In maintaining space mission communication systems, the difficulty usually arises between communications as the result of an inadequate bandwidth. Presently, there are about 40 active space missions being launched in a month contending for time on the network, which has overloaded the working communication systems. It's also important that Robotic probes launched by Nasa must provide the trustable communication connections, however, such reliable links are difficult to achieve. This is because the communication rate decreases as the square of the distance increases, that is a satellite transmitting back 400 million kilometres to Earth from Mars would make communications 100,000,000 times more difficult, this is also the reason for the earlier mentioned delayed transmission of instant messages from Mars to Earth via Internet.

The other concern regarding the use of Internet in space is of security, as it would not allow certification of correct identity and permission of the user or receiver of information due to its impossible real time communication. Therefore, SSL or the Secure Socket Layer and other security protocols would be required.

Interplanetary Internet will hopefully start functioning between 2020 and 2040. Some of its works are already being planned to be used in space missions and are soon going to be launched by Nasa.


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    • WillSteinmetz profile image


      7 years ago

      This is interesting hub.

    • goldenpath profile image


      8 years ago from Shenandoah, Iowa, USA

      Wow! The future applications of this can hardly be fathomed to any degree of completeness. Without the resistance of air outer space is truly boundless with possibilities.


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