As space agency plans to send humans further into space, communications is a key challenge.
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NASA hopes to extend the use of the Internet across the solar system as one of a host of key enabling technologies to help achieve future goals for human space exploration.
The space agency recently published the Global Exploration Roadmap, the result of collaboration between multiple space agencies around the globe, to find "feasible and sustainable exploration pathways to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and Mars," according to the document.
Now that NASA has ended its space shuttle program, the agency is turning its attention to developing a new space-launch system and crew vehicle that can carry astronauts beyond near-Earth orbit and deeper into space, among other technologies. The roadmap identifies two mission key goals, Asteroid Next and Moon Next, and outlines some of the technologies that will be needed to facilitate them and other future space missions.
NASA is collaborating with other space agencies around the world on these plans because the agencies believe it's the best way to meet the challenges, according to the roadmap.
Among other technologies, the document calls for the expansion of the Internet throughout the solar system by developing advanced communication and space internetworking capabilities.
NASA and other agencies will test the technology by setting up disruptive tolerant networking nodes on the International Space Station to try to figure out how to handle long time delays and communications interruptions that come with deep space communication, according to the document.
The development of more autonomous human interfaces and technologies such as advanced robotic systems also are part of agencies' plans to meet the challenges advanced space exploration will bring.
For astronauts to complete in-space assembly tasks, agencies aim to build advanced and standardized interfaces for "autonomous rendezvous and docking capabilities," according to the roadmap. Systems that improve astronaut mobility, sensing, perception, and manipulation to achieve more autonomy in general also are planned.
As has historically been the case, NASA also will use robotics missions as precursors to human space missions to explore the potential challenges and dangers with sending humans to destinations in space, according to the roadmap. NASA will undertake a series of robotics missions to Mars, the moon, and other space destinations through 2020 to pave the way for its future human exploration plans, according to the roadmap.
Another technology that will become more important to future space exploration is nanotechnology that can reduce vehicle and structural mass, improve functionality and durability of materials, and allow for enhanced power generation and storage.
Agencies also will explore using nanopropellants for propulsion in space as well as nanofiltration as part of plans to improve the management of astronaut health, which will become crucial as they travel longer distances.
Indeed, a more advanced human habitat system for longer and further space missions also are in the works, according to the roadmap. Scientists are currently working on improvements in reliability, maintainability, reduced mass and volume, advancements in biomedical countermeasures and self-sufficiency with minimal logistics.
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