NASA projects could speed transmissions from the final frontier

While social-media mavens and space buffs thrilled to the first Tweets from outer space last week, NASA was working on the kind of network improvements that will be necessary if astronauts are to use any online tools more demanding than Twitter.

According to Space.com, a news Web site that covers NASA and other space-related topics, NASA is trying to fuse its three aging networks into a faster, more efficient data carrier. Until it increases bandwidth, space explorers, whether human or robotic, will have to forgo things such as posting high-definition videos to YouTube.

The overhaul is expected to increase data rates from space by a factor of 50, "so that a Mars mission squeaking by on a few megabits per second might someday get as much as 600 megabits per second, if not more," Jeremy Hsu wrote on Space.com.

The speed increase isn't just for providing exciting images to earthlings. It will also advance NASA's scientific mission, Hsu reported.

"Imagine what you can accomplish with a single mission instead of several spacecraft flying over several years to collect the data," said Badri Younes, NASA's deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation, who was quoted in the article.

NASA has also been working to improve communications on other fronts. Late last year, the agency announced the first successful tests of an "interplanetary Internet," through a partnership with Google. Using software called Disruption-Tolerant Networking, engineers transmitted dozens of space images to and from a NASA science spacecraft that was about 20 million miles from Earth, according to an article in SatNews Daily.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader comments

Thu, Jan 28, 2010 Leslie

The limiting factor is not the available bandwidth, it is allocated already. These issues: (1) the distances, (2) the limited transmitter power/antenna (EIRP) on the spacecraft and (3) the ground receiving antenna size; need to be resolved before Gbit rates will flow. Nothing can be done about the distance. For the foreseeable future spacecraft will be power limited, it will cost a lot of money to come up with new space qualified power sources. To build new, large receiving apertures costs a lot of money too. So it is up to Congress to allocate the $$$$$.

Thu, Jan 28, 2010

This is a great initiative. We know that a 200MHz wide channel operating in the millimeter wave bands (say around 24-38 GHz) can provide 1-Gigabit or more per second. How long before we get this technology meaninfully in place?

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