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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Interoperability in Space

I was down to my last 30 minutes of air. Why did I come out on this damn solo hike? I was 25 km from Goddard Colony but because of the damn crater ridge, my radio signal can’t get through. Admittedly, this entire hike wasn’t planned well. I have been sitting on this damn spot for almost an hour trying to get somebody on comms.

To bad we only have two satellites in orbit. Of course neither one is in range for another two hours. We don’t have the launch capability yet, and Earth doesn’t think a small localized colony needs satellites for intra-moon communications, they bastards.

Oh crap, my leg just went numb. That can’t be good. Maybe if I twist around this, wait! Is that a rover? I think it is one of the Chinese rovers. Thank God! Come on guys, pick up the phone. Wait, they turning around. Damn, they can’t hear me, there’s no air. Why don’t they pick up?

The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want…
“In today’s top story, A young man was found dead 25 km from Goddard Colony at the foot of the largest crater. Apparently he had broken his leg and the crater broke “line-of-site” communications with the colony. According to officials he ran out of air this morning about 11:00 am GMT.

According to rescue workers, a Chinese mining crew passed near his position but due to non-standard comms formats, were unable to hear the distress call.

This latest tragedy has cause heated debate on both lunar communications satellites and standard radio formats across all lunar areas.

This is Debra Jones reporting.”

Interoperability on Earth is a problem. I know, it is why I have a job. The military needs divisions to be able to communicate at all times. Problem is, they don’t tend to think of it until after it’s needed (like during a war). Then it costs a fortune to retrofit and design comms equipment to translate for each group.

I believe the problem will be worse on the Moon if we don’t plan ahead. At least on the Earth we have air so we can shout at each other over short distances. The Moon has no such luxury. If you can’t talk over radio (or laser or whatever) you can’t talk.

The history of deep space communications is a tail of mission specific message formats:

  • Voyager 1 –X-band and S-band radio with a mission specific message format

  • Hubble uses the TDR Satellites to beam data down at Ka, Ku, or S-Band satellites, again with an mission specific format.

Most NASA spacecraft use X, Ka, Ku, or S-band radio and Reed-Solomon convolution encoding. The problem is, as I have seen in the past, they are developing the communications for the mission.

That may sound stupid, but think about it. If each mission has its own message format (even if it does use the same frequency and encoding) nobody can talk to each other.

You have to design an expandable message format the most everyone (tactically important comms aside) can use. We need to design a space TCP/IP that we can all develop spacecraft to fit. Not for a mission with a specific infrastructure, but with an expandable non-defined infrastructure.

There have been positive steps. The CCSDS has worked to create international communications standards. In fact, over 300 space missions have launched with CCSDS comm standards.

If new space is going to take off, we really need a way for a stranded SS3 to call a Bigelow station for help. Safety, reliability, trade, and development cost all beg for it.


Frank Glover said...

Could we not start with recognized emergency frequencies (121.5mhz, 156.8mhz, 243mhz), with a digital format that would give vital function/life-support and position data (from the other-planet equivalent of GPS, where available)?

meika said...

if we use software radio no spectrum allocation is necessary just triangulating trasncievers, the sooner the better, spectrum allocation is so, well, 20th century.

A definition

GNUradio FAQ

Software Radio Resource Page

With software radio the gps is the phone is the radio is the tv is the scanner is the morse code on all spectrums (ideally) all at once.

Dan Schrimpsher said...

I like the idea of emergency "bands" (even if we don't use bands). I will have to read up on software radios. It sounds interesting.

Darnell Clayton said...

This is a very bright (but overlooked) idea Dan!

Perhaps we should vote you to head up this project. ;-).

Joking aside, we may need to have several satellites in orbit around the Moon with "open bands" in order to enable communication between everyone on it.