NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have successfully controlled an educational rover from the International Space Station (ISS) using the “interplanetary internet.” In late October, ISS Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams used a laptop on the space station to remotely drive a LEGO robot (not the one pictured above) at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany.
The experiment used NASA’s Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol, which is based on the delay-tolerant networking architecture developed in part by Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist. In the newest experiment, DTN was used to simulate an astronaut in an planet-orbiting vehicle controlling a robotic rover on a 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 . “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.”
DTN enables standardized communications similar to the internet, but over interplanetary distances and through the time delays in communication with spacecrafts orbiting other planets or soaring out in deep space. The protocol accounts for disconnections and errors, and data moves through the network by hopping. Bundles of data are temporarily stored in nodes, and then forwarded to the next node when a link becomes available.