NASA has transmitted dozens of space images about 20 million miles in its first successful use of deep space communications modeled on the Internet.
"This is the first step in creating a totally new space communications capability, an interplanetary Internet," Adrian Hooke, team lead and manager of space-networking architecture, technology, and standards at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement Monday.
NASA and Google VP Vint Cerf developed a software protocol for disruption-tolerant networking (DTN), which sends information through a method that differs from the normal Internet's TCP/IP communications suite, 10 years ago. It can withstand delays, disruptions, and connection losses in space when a spacecraft moves behind a planet, or during solar storms, NASA said.
If a destination path can't be found, each network node retains the data packets until it can communicate safely with another node.
"In space today, an operations team must manually schedule each link and generate all the commands to specify which data to send, when to send it, and where to send it," Leigh Torgerson, manager of the DTN Experiment Operations Center at JPL, said in a statement. "With standardized DTN, this can all be done automatically."
In October, engineers began DTN demonstrations, transmitting data through NASA's Deep Space Network twice a week. They used a node on NASA's Epoxi spacecraft as a Mars data-relay orbiter. Epoxi is bound for Comet Hartley 2.
NASA plans another test using DTN software on board the International Space Station next summer.
If the network proves reliable, the new interplanetary Internet could help support multiple landings, orbiting spacecraft, and communications with astronauts on the moon.