Home Science Space Inter-planetary Internet expands to Mars and beyond


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The father of the Internet, Vint Cerf, is overseeing efforts by NASA to build a permanent Internet link to Mars by 2008.

InterPlaNet (IPN) will serve as a backbone for a future inter-planetary system of Internets, said Cerf during a visit to Bangalore, reports Indo Asian News Service.

Google vice president and Internet evangelist, Cerf co-wrote the TCP/IP protocol which underpins the Terran internet in the 1970s and began work on the InterPlaNet in 1998.

A collaboration between NASA and the Advanced Research Project Agency, the InterPlaNet project is underway at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Houston, Texas. The InterPlaNet protocol is designed to cope with delays caused by the vast distances of space, with data taking up to 20 minutes to travel between the Earth and Mars depending on how far apart the two planets are.

The InterPlaNet protocol was intended to be first used by the cancelled Mars Telecommunications Orbiter satellite, which was scheduled for launch in 2009. NASA had begun testing the idea of communicating with the Mars Telecom Orbiter via optical links before the project was shelved in 2005.

"We are working on standardising the protocols to enable spacecraft communicate and share information across the solar system," Cerf said while delivering a talk on the 'Future of the Internet'.

"Communication between a rover operator on Earth and a rover on Mars, via a relay orbiter, can't use standard Internet protocols end-to-end. That problem is at the root of a lot of the design work we're doing for the IPN... As part of the NASA Mars mission programme, the project aims to have by 2008 a well-functioning Earth-Mars network."

In 2004 the rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, broke Martian data speed records by sustaining a 256 kbps uplink to the Mars Odyssey and Mars Global Surveyor satellites orbiting above. Mars Odyssey had the faster link to Earth - 124 kbps at the time - but it has dropped as Mars moves further away from the Earth.

In the 1970s, data from NASA's two Mars Viking landers trickled back from the orbiting satellites at 8 kbps, via a 16 kbps uplink from the Martian surface.


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