Sunday, November 11, 2012

Interplanetary Internet used to controls LEGO robot from the ISS

In the Star Trek universe, communications are carried out through subspace radio. In our universe, such communications may end up being carried out via the "interplanetary Internet."

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NASA and the European Space Agency announced on Thursday that they had successfully tested what could end up being the basis for an interplanetary Internet. The test took place from the International Space Station (ISS) to Earth, with the ISS commander remote-controlling something your kid might use: a LEGO robot.

Here's what NASA said:
Space station Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams in late October used a NASA-developed laptop to remotely drive a small LEGO robot at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. The European-led experiment used NASA's DTN to simulate a scenario in which an astronaut in a vehicle orbiting a planetary body controls a robotic rover on the planet's surface.

"The demonstration showed the feasibility of using a new communications infrastructure to send commands to a surface robot from an orbiting spacecraft and receive images and data back from the robot," said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The experimental DTN we've tested from the space station may one day be used by humans on a spacecraft in orbit around Mars to operate robots on the surface, or from Earth using orbiting satellites as relay stations."

The DTN architecture is a new communications technology that enables standardized communications similar to the Internet to function over long distances and through time delays associated with on-orbit or deep space spacecraft or robotic systems.
Anyone who recalls the early days of the Star Trek television series - meaning "The Original Series" (TOS) will recall that sometimes Kirk and Company had to wait hours for a response via subspace radio. That is the problem with space: the immense distances.

The Internet on Earth splits data up into packets, then routes those packets to the closes to working (with the emphasis on working) node to get it to you. However, with the great distances in space, you have huge distances between nodes.

As NASA says, that is why:
The core of the DTN suite is the Bundle Protocol (BP), which is roughly equivalent to the Internet Protocol (IP) that serves as the core of the Internet on Earth. While IP assumes a continuous end-to-end data path exists between the user and a remote space system, DTN accounts for disconnections and errors. In DTN, data move through the network "hop-by-hop." While waiting for the next link to become connected, bundles are temporarily stored and then forwarded to the next node when the link becomes available.
It still doesn't mean communication between the Enterprise and Earth will take place instantaneously, but it's mean to ameliorate that as well as transmission errors.

NASA said the experiment took place in late October, although they only released the results on Thursday.

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