NASA missions are planning to adopt the Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) system, or 'Space Internet', which has the potential to link planets, by the year 2011, states a report in National Geographic News
The DTN system which has entered another phase of testing, can provide far more than a connection to check email.
It's also essential for simplifying space command and control functions-such as power production or life-support systems-crucial for future space initiatives.
"You need an automated communications technology to sustain planetary exploration on the scale that NASA and others want to perform over the next decade," said Kevin Gifford, a senior research associate at BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
"DTN enables the transition from a simple point-to-point network, like a walkie-talkie, to a true multimode network like the Internet," he added.
After a decade of development, DTN has advanced quickly over the past year, and NASA missions are planning to adopt the network by 2011.
In November 2008, NASA test-drove the network by sending space images to and from the EPOXI spacecraft, some 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) from Earth.
DTN protocols were also installed on the International Space Station (ISS) in May, and summer testing began the first week of July.
The Web uses Transmission-Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), a type of communication language in which hosts and computers must be constantly connected.
This rarely happens in space, where intermittent connections are the norm because of the vast distances involved and the tendency of orbiting moons, rotating planets, and drifting satellites to temporarily disrupt wireless lines of communication.
Typical space delays, even those caused by solar storms, are handled in stride by DTN, according to Adrian Hooke, a veteran of the Apollo 11 mission launch team, who manages the new space DTN project. Each node in the network, whether it's the ISS or a small orbiting robot, stores all the data it receives until a clear opportunity arises to pass its "bundle" along to the others in the network.
DTN nodes do not discard data when a destination path can't be identified.
DTN can also bring broadband Web to remote areas with few communication structures, connecting remote humans such as the Arctic's Sami people via satellite with far shorter time lags.
The US military has also embraced the technology to help keep lines of communication open in remote areas-or when other infrastructure is destroyed.