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Vint Cerf and NASA's BP and DTN Protocol: How It Works

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#1 Hum

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Posted 09 November 2012 - 23:11

NASA and the European Space Agency have tested out a prototype system that may one day help enable Internet-like communications between Earth and robots on another planet.

Astronaut Sunita Williams, commander of the International Space Station's current Expedition 33 mission, used NASA's experimental Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to drive a small LEGO robot at the European Space Operations Center in Germany late last month.

The European-led experiment simulated a scenario in which an astronaut orbiting another world controls a robotic rover on the planet's surface, NASA officials said.

"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," Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

"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," Younes added.

NASA's DTN architecture is a new technology designed to enable standardized communications over long distances and through time delays, agency officials said. At its core is something called the Bundle Protocol (BP), which is similar to the Internet Protocol, or IP, that serves as the heart of the Internet here on Earth.

The big difference between the two is that IP assumes a seamless end-to-end data path, while BP is built to account for errors and disconnections — glitches that commonly plague deep-space communications.

Data move through the BP network in a series of short hops, waiting at one node until the next link becomes available, NASA officials said.

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#2 Asrokhel

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 07:02

NASA DTN Protocol: Interplanetary Internet, How It Works, What LEGOS Have to To With It

NASA is calling it the interplanetary Internet, and announcements have been hitting in recent weeks regarding the sending of the first emails, voicemails and, of late, news of an experiment that involved remote controlling of a LEGO space robot with it. But what’s truly cool is the technology enabling it — it’s a protocol called Delay-Tolerant Networking, better known as DTN.

At its heart is Vint Cerf’s Bundle Protocol (BP), a version of the IP protocol he helped develop to pioneer the Internet decades ago.

In testing for several years, DTN got a major boost recently, says Badri Younes, a NASA administrator in Washington. Astronaut Sunita Williams — she commanded the
International Space Station’s current Expedition 33 mission — used NASA’s experimental Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to drive a small LEGO robot at the European Space Operations Center in Germany late last month.

That was big news for the DTN and BP protocols, developed jointly by Internet pioneer
+Vint Cerf and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In a nutshell — we’ll get down and dirty with the tech lower in the piece — DTN allows a standard method of communication over long distances and through time delays, agency officials said. Its centering tech is similar to the IP protocol (that is the TCP/IP protocol) that is the building block of the Internet we use on Earth. That’s called the Bundle Protocol (BP).

The big difference between BP and IP is that, while IP assumes a more or less smooth pathway for packets going from start to end point, BP allows for disconnections, glitches and other problems you see commonly in deep space, Younes said. Basically, a BP network — the one that will the Interplanetary Internet possible — moves data packets in bursts from node to node, so that it can check when the next node is available or up.

“The demonstration (of the DTN controlled robot) 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,” Younes said. “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,” Younes added.


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The first thing to understand is that the DTN testbed with BP driving it is in active testing now, NASA says.

Its first successful test was in 2008, when NASA announced that early DTN software for the first time enabled the transmission of more than a dozen of space images to and from a NASA science spacecraft located about 20 million miles (32M KM) from Earth. In a statement then, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Google’s +Vint Cerf said it kicked off the Interplanetary Internet. But what is DTN?

“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,” Younes added.

In a nutshell, says NASA, “The Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) program establishes a long-term, readily accessible communications test-bed onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Two Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA), CGBA-5 and CGBA-4, will serve as communications test computers that transmit messages between ISS and ground Mission Control Centers. All data will be monitored and controlled at the BioServe remote Payload Operations Control Center (POCC) located on the Engineering Center premises at the University of Colorado – Boulder,” reps said today.


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According to NASA’s Delay-Tolerant Networking Research Group (DTNRG), ”the DTN protocol is under active development.”

An experiment using DTN to control the LEGO robot is in the news today, but NASA says there are real world, military and consumer applications that affect Internet users worldwide.

“In addition to network security, research goals for the DTN activity will focus on testing and evolving important network services including naming and addressing, time synchronization, routing, network management and class of service,” NASA reps add, saying that “the DTN experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) consist of software which is to be placed on both Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA), CGBA-4 and CGBA-5, and then tested from a ground operations center.

What’s going on? Researchers explain “the DTN activity will focus on testing and evolving important network services including naming and addressing, time synchronization, routing, network management and class of service. The DTN experiments on ISS consist of software (that) is to be placed on both Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus, CGBA-4 and CGBA-5, and then tested from a ground operations center. This software is not in any critical path of the CGBA operations and may be turned off at anytime. This software does not preclude the use of the CGBA units for other purposes or research support.

DTN, say NASA reps, is “a networked architecture required to successfully complete these missions. The experiments that will be performed are designed to test the DTN protocol suite in an actual space environment, and to determine how well the protocols perform and what improvements may need to be made. The impact of the results of the research will help to advance the technical maturity of the DTN communications technology so that it is available for NASA use in both human and robotic Exploration missions.

"The Delay-Tolerant Networking Research Group (DTNRG) is a research group chartered as part of the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF). Members of DTNRG are concerned with how to address the architectural and protocol design principles arising from the need to provide interoperable communications with and among extreme and performance-challenged environments where continuous end-to-end connectivity cannot be assumed. Said another way, we are concerned with interconnecting highly heterogeneous networks together even if end-to-end connectivity may never be available. Examples of such environments include spacecraft, military/tactical, some forms of disaster response, underwater, and some forms of ad-hoc sensor/actuator networks. It may also include Internet connectivity in places where performance may suffer such as developing parts of the world.

"DTNRG members research aspects of delay-tolerant networking in a number of ways including academic publications, technical specifications, several active mailing lists, and code (reference implementation) development. DTNRG holds semi-regular teleconferences for software developers and occasional face-to-face public meetings. The public meetings usually occur in conjunction with an IETF meeting. The current co-chairs for DTNRG are Kevin Fall (Qualcomm), Stephen Farrell (Trinity College, Dublin) and Jörg Ott (Aalto University, Helsinki). Back in 2006 Stephen wrote a book on DTN. Several of the members of DTNRG participated in the (highly-related) DARPA Disruption Tolerant Networking program."

DTN research is necessary in space especially, NASA says, for the maturation of protocols to enable Internet-like communications with space vehicles, remote planetary habitats, rover vehicles and support infrastructure on a planetary surface. “It is being tested for the first time on ISS Onboard (local) ISS , ISS-to-ground, and NASA ground communications networks will become DTN-enabled,” NASA says. “That is the key stepping stone to enabling the Interplanetary Internet.












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#3 The_Decryptor

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 19:22

Every article I've read on this has been kinda light on details, there's obviously a reason why DTN/BP is better than IP/UDP/TCP, but they don't say why specifically (The reasons given, things like latency or packet drop are an issue on IP networks to, part of it's design is to handle them)

From reading Wikipedia I get the idea that BP is message based, rather than packet based, but that's about it.

#4 Belazor

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Posted 11 November 2012 - 20:51

I think the most important thing is, when can I order it and will it be faster than 2658 kbps? :p

#5 Marshall

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Posted 12 November 2012 - 05:52

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