An interplanetary Internet will make data move drastically faster between Earth and the probes and other spacecraft that are millions of miles away. Engineers need to overcome several challenges before we plan our virtual journey to Mars through cyberspace. These challenges are:
- The speed-of-light delay.
- Satellite maintenance.
- The possibility of hacker break-ins.
On Earth, two computers connected to the Internet are only a few thousand miles away at the most. Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second, it takes only a few fractions of a second to send a packet of data from one computer to another. In contrast, distances between a station on Earth and one on Mars can be between 38 million miles (56 million km) and 248 million miles (400 million km). At these distances, it can take several minutes or hours for a radio signal to reach a receiving station. An interplanetary Internet will not be able to duplicate the real-time immediacy of the Internet that you use. The store-and-forward method will allow information to be sent in bundles and overcome the concern of data being lost due to delays.
The satellites of the Mars Network will be tens or hundreds of millions of miles from Earth and that means that it will be hard to get up there to fix things when they go wrong. The components of these satellites would have to be much more reliable than those circling Earth.
Hackers pose the biggest threat to an interplanetary Internet. Break-ins and corruption of navigation or communication systems could be disastrous for space missions, and even cause deaths in manned-spacecraft missions. Developers are taking every precaution to design a system that will be able to control access. The protocol selected will have to be impenetrable to hackers, something that has not been possible on Earth. Developers may look at the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol used for financial transactions as a model for securing the interplanetary Internet.
The interplanetary Internet will possibly wire us to Mars within the decade and to other planets in the decades to follow. It will no longer be necessary to go into space to experience space travel. Instead, space will be brought right to your desktop. With enhancements made to boost data rate transfers, you and I might soon be able to take a a virtual space trip to the mountains of Mars, the rings of Saturn or the giant spot on Jupiter.
Related How Stuff Works Articles
- How Mars Works
- How Satellites Work
- How Web Servers and the Internet Work
Other Interesting Links
- Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems
- Deep Space Network
- Earth, You’ve Got Mail (New Scientist)
- The InterPlanetary Internet (IPN) (SpaceRef.com)
- InterPlaNetary Internet Study
- Mars Network
- Space Communications Protocol Standards
- A Web That’s Out of This World (MSNBC.com)