An astronaut at the International Space Station has used interplanetary internet in order to send specific commands to a robot on Earth. Known as Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol, the cutting-edge technology could become increasingly prominent over the next few years as it is now seen as a viable way to communicate with astronauts on Mars.
Under the current set-up, information can easily be lost when data is sent between the two planets. But experts at the European Space Agency and Nasa say that this could be the solution to their troubles. That is after it was revealed that Sunita Williams, ISS Expedition 33 commander, used a laptop with DTN software to control a rover in Germany.
Technology experts observed that the DTN bears similarities to the internet on Earth, but they said that it is more tolerant to disruptions that are bound to occur when data is travelling over such a significant distance. Many of these delays are caused by solar storms or when spacecraft end up being obscured by planets.
"It's all about communicating over large distances, because the 'normal' internet doesn't expect that it may take minutes before something is sent for it to arrive," Kim Nergaard from Esa explained to the BBC.
The cutting-edge system is reliant on a network of nodes that are needed to cope with delays. On occasions when delays do occur, the data is simply saved in one of the nodes until the connection is restored. This means that data is not lost unnecessarily and that it will eventually reach its intended destination.
"With the internet on Earth, if something is disconnected, the source has to retransmit everything, or you lose your data," he commented. "But the DTN has this disruption tolerance, and that's the difference - it has to be much more robust over the kind of distances and the kind of networks we're talking about."
At present, Nasa and Esa both communicate with Curiosity, the latest rover on the surface of Mars, using so-called point-to-point communication. However, this is not a built-up network. But in the future, the hope is that rovers on Mars and spacecraft orbiting it will be treated as a network, meaning you can send things to the network "just as you send things using the internet on Earth".