Inside Tech: Interstellarnet
26 · FEB ·2016
Legend has it that when Hallmark Card’s founder Joyce Clyde Hall came up with the idea for Valentine’s Day, he envisioned a single day of the year where love could be universally celebrated across the world. He believed in being able to quantify, in hard cash, how much someone loved their partner.
For example, if a couple spent more money, it would unequivocally prove that they were more in love than a couple that spent less. Money equals love basically and it’s a lovely tradition and one that still holds up today.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I had a striking realisation this past Valentine’s. I was looking up at the stars wondering if my little alien friend would ever come back to me when I began to think about the cosmonauts inhabiting the International Space Station. Could they talk to their partners today? Did they use the internet? Has fibre reached space? Will ET ever return? Can Leicester City win the Premier League? Is it safe to look at the night sky for this long without wearing sunglasses? All relevant questions I’m sure you’ll agree, however one question stood out more than the others: did I really just invent space internet?
In short, the answer is a big fat no. It turns out that they do already have the internet in space; it’s just very, very slow, that’s all. But why is it so slow? Have NASA been reading
our guide on how to slow down your internet or is there something extra-terrestrial going on here? Let’s find out shall we.
The Interplanetary Internet launched in 2010 and is structured around a network of satellites that are primarily used to communicate with astronauts at the ISS. The way it works is actually quite similar to how a remote desktop down on earth works, except for you know, it’s in space.
An astronaut will click a link on space’s version of Facebook (Spacebook probably) and the radio signals will be pinged across to a network of relatively close geosynchronous satellites. The data will then travel down to receivers on earth before heading back up to space with the response. This clocks out at a speed of around 228 kilobytes per second, which means that it’s statistically quicker to nip back to earth in a rocket and tell your sister that you like her selfie in person.
Let’s put that into context, considering the average home FTTC connection clocks in at around 50-100Mbps, the interplanetary internet is anywhere between 200 – 450 times slower. If it was a space race, space internet would have been disqualified for being unfit for space competition several space years ago.
Fortunately, space’s version of The Connection Voucher Scheme is coming to the rescue in the form of The European Space Agency. They have a project that will see the current infrastructure modified and by 2020 astronauts to be able to browse the web at speeds of around 75Mbps. Work is underway now and I guarantee you that we have a million space selfies clogging up our Spacebook feed before you know it.
Anyway, that’s space internet covered. Next week we’ll do the opposite and find out how moles are using the internet, trust me it’s going to be a real eye-opener, which is ironic as moles are legally blind.