NASA Game Simulates Space-Mission Communication

Space agency created NetworKing to let players virtually create communication networks used by astronauts, scientists, and ground control.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

October 13, 2011

3 Min Read

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NASA has developed a video game that shows how astronauts and mission control communicate in space, giving players and opportunity to build their own space communications network.

NASA's Ames Research Center developed the game, called NetworKing, which allows players to virtually construct a network that simulates the one that NASA astronauts, mission control, and scientists use to communicate during space missions, according to the space agency.

NASA hopes the game will help instill in students an interest in careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields by giving them a fun and challenging look into NASA communications technology.

Indeed, the Obama administration as a whole is trying to spur interest in STEM education in an effort to keep the United States competitive globally in these fields.

[ Learn about other NASA activities. Read NASA Supercomputer Tackles Secrets Of Galaxies. ]

Players of NetworKing act as "network managers," tasked with building and upgrading a complex communications network to support NASA scientific missions, according to the space agency.

The game has several objectives, and as players get more advanced so do their tasks in the game. First they must build command stations around the world and accept clients that have space assets, such as satellites and telescopes. They also must gather resources to build and enhance their networks.

In the game, players have the opportunity to build three communications networks, the first being a Near Earth Network that enables periodic communications with satellites in low earth orbit.

The next network players can create, the Space Network Deploy, is more complex. It involves a constellation of relay satellites to support missions that need continuous network coverage.

Finally, NetworKing advanced players can build a Deep Space network that would allow for interplanetary space missions with powerful antennas, according to NASA.

After the networks are built in the game, players are then tasked with managing and upgrading networks, which could requiring dealing with disaster-recovery functions or doing research to find enhancements to network capabilities.

Players also can support specific NASA missions in the game once they have networks that are advanced enough to handle them. This aspect of NetworKing simulates how the networks would act in a real-world production environment.

Players that build the most advanced and integrated communications networks can acquire clients in the game with complex needs, such as the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler mission.

People can play NetworKing on the NASA 3-D Resources website on both PCs and Macs.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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