NASA eyes extending Internet into space

Internet Protocol standards already enable global communications. Now, NASA researchers are trying to extend the reach of TCP/IP into space. By doing so, they not only hope to improve satellite operations, but also hope to improve Earth-bound Internet operations.

Currently, NASA systems use specialized standards suited to the particular circumstances of space, said Will Ivancic, senior research engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center. "There are standards, but they are standards used by a dozen people," he said.

Officials at NASA's Satellite Networks and Architectures Branch hope that by adapting the widely used Internet standards, they can make their applications more efficient and less costly.

"We're attempting to look at TCP/IP from a long distance," said Bruce Fleming, divisional officer for Verizon Communication's Federal Network Systems group, NASA's contractor on the project.

TCP/IP is designed for more localized situations, he noted. "We are extending this way beyond what is seen as optimum for the protocol," Fleming said.

NASA's Internet Engineering Task Force TCP Over Satellite Working Group has been doing research for several years that grew out of efforts to use IP for satellite communications. That research is "pretty mature," Ivancic said.

"There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to use these protocols to control the spacecraft," he said.

The goal of the long-term research, however, is to improve the commercial protocols so they work better in a space environment, but only if the changes also are applicable to terrestrial systems.

"It can't just be a niche for NASA," Ivancic said. "It has to have commercial applications."

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine,, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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