March 30, 2023
How do astronauts access the Internet in space?

How do astronauts access the Internet in space?

Built and maintained by a group of 15 countries, including United States of America and the Russia They are the most important members, the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit began in 1998 and was officially completed on June 8, 2011. Since 2000, it has been constantly occupied by astronauts, who take turns in small groups spending an average of six months working and conducting scientific experiments In an orbiting laboratory.

For 22 years, the International Space Station has been occupied by astronauts, who since 2010 have had an Internet access system. Photo: NASA

The standard length of stay is for the American Mark Vandy Hey and the Russian Pyotr Dobrov who spent 355 days there. Have you ever imagined being away from family and friends for a long time, without any kind of communication with them? It would be terrible, wouldn’t it?

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To comfort those destined to live this experience, since 2010 the International Space Station has had a communication system that allows personal access to Internet. This was designed with the aim of improving the quality of life for those confined to the structure, which is located at an altitude of 408 km.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky, a flight engineer for Expedition 37, uses his computer to access the Internet on the International Space Station in 2013. Image: NASA

The same telemetry communications are used to communicate and exchange data between the crew and control centers on the ground, through satellite signals.

When you click on a link, for example, the command is sent to a network of satellites that orbit the Earth at an altitude of more than 35,000 km, near the so-called geostationary satellites (It is fixed above a fixed point on the planet).

These satellites connect to a network of servers on Earth – the Deep Space Network – with facilities in the US state of California, Madrid (Spain) and Canberra (Australia), which in turn communicate with the center. Johnson Space in Houston (USA). There, the space station’s computer interfaces, the satellites, NASA’s receivers and facilities, and the Internet itself.

After adding her two expeditions to the International Space Station, in 2006 and 2012, astronaut Sunita Williams spent 300 days in the orbiting laboratory, gaining access to personal internet on her second visit. Photo: NASA

Although the connection between the orbiting laboratory and the Deep Space network is very fast (600 Mbps for download and upload), there are some drawbacks: the distance the signal travels to and from the station to the surface and the need, on Earth, to make use of a computer as an interface to access Internet content .

As a result, there is a high latency (connection response time): between 500 and 700 milliseconds (milliseconds), which is much higher than the roughly 10 milliseconds you get for a broadband connection on Earth.

According to Clayton Anderson, an astronaut who has been on the space station on two occasions (six months in 2007 and two weeks in 2010), it’s almost as if he’s using the dial-up internet.

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Since it is a business network, although astronauts can use it for personal use, access to it is limited. They can use their laptops and tablets for browsing and even video conferencing with family and friends, but for limited periods.

Since the station communicates with the facilities on the ground through a dedicated link, the communication is continuous, and therefore, without interference from other signals. In addition, the deep space network’s receiving antennas are strategically located to maintain constant communication with the satellites communicating with the station.

Sources: Vanderlei Cunha Parro, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia, and Cássio Barbosa, Professor in the Department of Physics at FEI, consulted by UOL Gateway.

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