A Starlink-like network could use edge computing for Mars web access

A new scientific proposal considers the benefits of using edge computing to create an interplanetary internet.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of a satellite orbiting Mars.
An artist's impression of a satellite orbiting Mars.

janiecbros / iStock 

Will future Mars explorers have interplanetary internet? Will the internet one day reach across space, connecting humans on Earth and Mars?

A new paper, posted on preprint server arXiv, goes some way toward answering these questions. In it, a team of researchers proposes a new method for creating an internet communications network for Mars. The key to beaming data to the Red Planet? Edge computing.

Providing internet access in space

Today, NASA communicates with its Martian satellites and rovers via the Deep Space Network (DSN), which is made up of a collection of large radio antennas. The DSN enables image and video transfer, but it typically takes hours at a time.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, meanwhile, do have web access, though the speed is comparable to dial-up internet.

In the new paper, titled 'Can Orbital Servers Provide Mars-Wide Edge Computing?', the researchers propose using edge computing, which utilizes distributed servers to allow quick streaming and other use cases on Earth, for data transfer to Mars.

To do so, they suggest building a system that's somewhat similar to SpaceX's Starlink constellation, though it will be much smaller in size.

Edge computing on Mars

Edge computing could make Earth data accessible on Mars, but it would require a lot of new infrastructure, according to the paper. The researchers proposed building a constellation of satellites around the Red Planet. To be precise, they suggest nine satellites in nine different orbital planes, for a total of 81 satellites.

These satellites would communicate with each other to enable redundant backups of data. Using this method, several landing sites on Mars would be able to communicate with several satellites at the same time. For crewed missions to Mars, ground servers could then be used for faster retrieval of data.

This would obviously be a costly enterprise, which is why the researchers propose building the satellite network gradually over time. Upcoming missions designed to lay the groundwork for crewed Mars missions, for example, could take just a few satellites along to get things started.

The new proposal isn't too dissimilar from startup Aquarian Space's idea of creating a system called Solnet that will use high-speed delivery satellite networks with speeds of 100 megabits per second. Aquarian received $650,000 in seed funding last year to help it develop its idea for a broadband internet network that could link the Earth, Moon, and maybe even Mars.

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