NASA just debuted a new network protocol that could very well help to increase reliability of deep space communications in the future. It could even have some good implications for more reliable Internet communications here on Earth too.
Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking is a huge milestone for Internet communications
Communicating with spacecraft beyond that of geosynchronous orbit is a bit of a difficult process. Increasing distances between the Earth and spacecraft make it progressively more likely that more packets will be easily dropped. Even the best laser communication systems are limited, you need line-of-sight for them to actually work. And even then, the normal way in which we send packets could still mean lost information along the way.
To attack the limitations of traditional networks, NASA has created the DTN, or Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking service. Every packet of data is transmitted immediately to its next destination but each point along the way also stores that information for a longer period of time just in case it doesn’t make it all the way. Traditional IP networks might fail to transmit, but the entire payload of data would have to be re-transmitted from the original destination instead of simply seeing what’s missing and asking for just that.
The idea is groundbreaking in how it can help increase reliability of not only those far-reaching networks that include the equipment on Mars, but this network protocol could even be used to speed up and keep more terrestrial networks that much more reliable. It could even be just a bit more secure due to having more integrity checks along the way. They’ve also been able to bake in better encryption compatibility and better methods of authentication as well. It’s a massive step forward, and has real uses for here on Earth, which is great. And it lets the Astronauts on the ISS have more reliable Internet too.