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Upgrades on Space Network to Double Data Rates on the International Space Station

Dec 14, 2016 09:02 AM EST
International Space Station
Upgrades on the Space Network to double data rates at the International Space Station.
(Photo : NASA via Getty Images)

The wireless communication system that connects astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to people on the ground is called the Space Network. New reports claim it is set to get an upgrade that will double data rates.

Right now, astronauts at the ISS are limited to 300 megabits per second, which is surprisingly twice the speed in home WiFi networks.

"Fundamentally, this upgrade of both the onboard and ground data communications systems enables an increase in the scientific output from the space station," said Mark Severance, the network director of human spaceflight at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, adding, "Increasing the data downlink rates from the station will allow the manifestation of new experiments and technology demonstrations that have higher data-rate requirements than could previously be accommodated."

The Space Network is composed of a constellation of relay satellites that circle the earth in a geosynchronous orbit. NASA's spacecrafts beam the date to the nearest satellite, then data is related from the satellite to a terminal on the ground which in the end heads to one of the space agency's data centers.

This wireless communication data gives NASA the power to download scientific data from the instruments installed on the spacecraft. It also allows astronauts aboard the ISS to conduct audio conversations and video interviews.

40 NASA missions currently rely on the Space Network, which also includes the Hubble Space Telescope. Approximately 28 terabytes of information is transmitted across the Space Network each day.

"The project is committed to evolving the Space Network to enable new mission concepts by simplifying customer interfaces, increasing customer data rates, and enabling new concepts of operations," stated project manager Ted Sobchak.

In addition, ground terminals in Guam, New Mexico, and White Sands will also receive hardware upgrades that will double the download speed. By 2017, a new craft will be added to the fleet of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites which would further boost the capabilities of the Space Network system.

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