• NASA is developing an internet network for the entire solar system. (NASA)Source: NASA
NASA has recently launched a new signalling technology that could be the first step to a solar system-wide internet network.
Shami Sivasubramanian

29 Jun 2016 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 10:27 AM

A slow internet connection is the bane of any 21st century professional. But while our wait for the NBN continues here on Earth, NASA's got a promising new plan for the solar system in the pipeline.

NASA has recently installed a DTN, or Delay/Disruption Tolerant Network on the International Space Station (ISS), to allow probes and space crafts to have better transmission with the Earth when in space.

"Aboard the space station, DTN was added to the Telescience Resource Kit (TReK), a software suite for researchers to transmit and receive data between operations centers and their payloads aboard station. This service on the station will also enhance mission support applications, including operational file transfers," NASA states in a release.

"This first use of the service as an operational capability on a space mission marks the beginning of the space station as a node in the evolving Solar System Internet. In addition to use in space, DTN can benefit environments where communications are unreliable, such as disaster response areas."

DTN works on similar principles to traditional broadband internet, a series of nodes that receive and transmit data from the sender all the way to the receiver.

But unlike traditional internet, which requires all the nodes that receive and transmit data to be available and accessible at the time of sending a message (or photo, or video), the DTN can store transmitted data between nodes. It means if a node isn't available at the time to receive data, other nodes can store that data until it is. 

Dr Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University of Technology, says that unlike the prior deep space network "which was similar to a phone call since both ends needed to be on at the same time", the DTN, which is likened to the 'internet', would make deep space transmission more efficient and reliable.

"Space is complex. Satellites go behind planets, or rovers go out of view, but you still want to get data from it. And that's where this comes in," he says.

However, DTN's efficiency doesn't necessarily reflect its speed, says Duffy. In theory you could stream Netflix on Mars with this new network, but it's "not going to be quite at the speed you're used to," he says.

NASA says messages could ideally be sent from anywhere in the solar system to robotic spacecrafts in deep space, to anywhere on Earth, or to humans living on other planets in the future.

"I see this being used with rovers and satellites, particularly satellites going towards Mars," says Duffy.

Given the growing number of space explorations to Mars, the moon, and other planets within our solar system, the 17-year-old ISS could use the upgrade. But to know this technology could eventually give us the ability to connect with people living on Mars is pretty exciting.

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