The internet extends into outer space - starting in 2009
The idea of an Interplanetary Internet extending throughout the entire solar system, linking space stations, satellites, unmanned probes and robot vehicles with an internet protocol adapted to space conditions, has already been around for at least a decade. Vint Cerf, famed as co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol suite, "the father of the Internet", and now Google's vice president, has laid out a detailed time schedule for its introduction. In an interview with the online edition of Technology Review magazine, he says the first tests of the technology will be carried out on board the international space station (ISS) starting in 2009. He hopes that, by 2010, new space missions will be designed to use Interplanetary Internet standards that span the solar system.
Constructing a powerful backbone infrastructure would then proceed step-by-step, with every new space vehicle that is launched. "Each time a new mission is launched, using the standard bundle protocol, previous mission assets, that are still in operation, could be used to support the communication requirements of the new mission. In this way, we hope to accrete a kind of interplanetary backbone network." But he also wants existing systems, for example the Deep Impact spacecraft – now on an extended mission called EPOXI – to be re-purposed. "The spacecraft has processing, memory, radio equipment, and solar panels for power so we don't have to put new hardware up. We just have to upload new software. We are lucky to not have to field any new equipment yet", he said.
The challenges to technology are great but, he says, the internet protocol is perfectly usable in space. "We are using store-and-forward methods", he continues, routing information through hosts that hold on to it until a communications link can be established to the next station. This corresponds to the basic idea of TCP/IP, only optimized for space conditions. So work could still proceed even with a high likelihood of delays and interruptions. "For example, Pluto is a long ways away, on the order of three to five billion miles and about 12 hours round-trip time."