The Internet In Space - InformationWeek

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The Internet In Space

A plan is filed with the Internet Engineering Task force to create a communication network in space.

In the near future, you may be able to E-mail your friends on Europa. A plan filed with the Internet Engineering Task Force this week would make it possible to create a communication network between spacecraft, asteroids, satellites, and planets. The project is supported by NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Internet draft, located at www.ietf.org/internet-drafts/draft-irtf-ipnrg-arch-00.txt, outlines a method for communications to flow through the InterPlanetary Internet Regions with such possible new domains as jupiter.sol and mars.sol. Sending interplanetary communications, as one would suspect, has certain challenges. As Scott C. Burleigh, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in the draft's foreward: "Sometimes a planet will be between the source and the destination. Therefore rely not on end-to-end connectivity at any time, for the universe does not work that way."

That means the possibility of real-time communications in space is elusive. So engineers are working on ways to deliver packets of information instead of delivering information in real time. A small robotic surveyor skating across the icy surface of Europa may soon be receiving packets of information just as we receive letters once a day from the U.S. Postal service.

Developers of the InterPlanetary Internet Regions are well aware that their system will be a prime target for hacker attacks. The Interplanetary Research Group team has taken that into account by providing access controls, user authentication, as well as data integrity and privacy.

Don't expect the InterPlanetary Internet Regions to support instant messaging any time soon. The time for roundtrip communication between Earth and Mars can range from 8 minutes to more than 40 minutes.

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