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Communicating over Extreme Distances– Speaker Bio

DBheadshotDr. Don M. Boroson is a Laboratory Fellow in the Communication Systems Division of MIT Lincoln Laboratory. He has had a long career there with a focus, since the mid-1980s, on space-based laser communications systems.  He has experience in many facets of this exciting field, from mathematical analyses of phenomena and system performance, to invention of novel subsystems, to devising complete system architectures.  He has also led teams developing a wide range of relevant technologies, as well as designing, building, and fielding end-to-end systems.

Dr. Boroson was Lincoln’s lead lasercom engineer for the GeoLITE program, which, in 2001, became the world’s first successful space-based, high-rate lasercom system.  He served as the lead system engineer on NASA’s Mars Laser Communications Demonstration program, which ended up not flying because of the 2005 cancellation of the larger satellite it was to be carried on, but which devised many concepts and architectures that are now considered standard for Deep Space lasercom systems.

He was then Principal Investigator and Lincoln Program Manager for NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration which, in 2013, became the world’s first Moon-to-Earth lasercom system, and which also set a number of other records including being the first truly error-free space-to-ground laser communication system, to being the highest rate duplex Moon-to-Earth communication system of any sort, to being the world’s longest lasercom system to date.

Dr. Boroson holds undergraduate and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Princeton University.

Register for Upcoming Webinar: Communicating over Extreme Distances


lasercomm_bannerOn Thursday, June 24th, 2021 from 10:00-11:00 EDT (14:00-15:00 UTC) the InterPlanetary Networking Special Interest Group (IPNSIG) hosts a webinar ‘Communicating over Extreme Distances’. Dr. Don Boroson from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory will present some of the challenges involved in interstellar space communications. These include improvements in laser communication signal gain, signal aiming, and electronic component survivability, among others.  The webinar is free, but you must register to attend.

Register in advance for this webinar:




Communicating Over Extreme Distances Webinar

“Communicating Over Extreme Distances Webinar” coming soon!


On Thursday, June 24th, 2021 from 10:00-11:00 EDT (14:00-15:00 UTC) the InterPlanetary Networking Special Interest Group (IPNSIG) will host a webinar: ‘Communicating over Extreme Distances’.

Dr. Don Boroson from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory will present some of the challenges involved in interstellar space communications. These include improvements in laser communication signal gain, signal aiming, and electronic component survivability, among others. Moderated by Vint Cerf. There will be a short Q&A period following the presentation.

The webinar is free, but you must register to attend. Speaker bio page and registration site will be published soon.

ESA-OPSAT Experiment Concluded

We have some exciting news for our members and the general public.

Recently, IPNSIG PWG members participated in an experiment by D3TN GmbH, transmitting data to and from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) OPS-SAT satellite. Main participants: D3TN, Spatiam Corporation and members of IPNSIG Pilot Projects Working Group Alberto Montilla Ochoa (Spatiam Corporation), Juan Fraire (D3TN) and Larissa Suzuki (Google) under the leadership of IPNSIG Board Members Oscar Garcia, Vint Cerf and Alberto Montilla.

The intent was 1) to demonstrate in-space interoperability of D3TN’s µD3TN and JPL/NASA’s ION Bundle Protocol version 7 (BPv7) implementations; and 2) to perform a demonstration of computer vision-enabled identification of objects through a DTN link connecting a cold spot and a hot spot via the DTN-enabled satellite.

The results of the experiment are encouraging – all prepared tests could be completed successfully and even some “stretch goals” could be reached: Overall, interopability of µD3TN and ION was shown, multi-pass forwarding of data worked out, bundle fragmentation and reassembly with several hundred fragments transferred over the space link could be performed successfully and fully-automated (scheduled) testing was possible as well.

Fairly soon, this announcement will be followed up with a more detailed explanation of the experiment, including why we think it is important, provided by Oscar Garcia. In the meantime, you can check out D3TN’s blog entry about the experiment:

Many thanks to the individuals mentioned above and to IPNSIG members Juan Fraire and Marius Feldmann (both of D3TN), for their contributions toward this significant endeavor. This effort involved global collaborators, many of whom are based in Europe (D3TN is a German company, Lara Suzuki is based in London).

Stay tuned!

IPNSIG Newsletter May, 2021

Why do we need an Interplanetary Internet, and what are we doing in order to have it?

The questions of why an Interplanetary Internet should exist, in what ways it could affect our lives, and if and why we should be involved in it, probably arise in most of our minds when we hear about such a thing as an “Interplanetary Internet”.

I offer here my answers to these questions and my own reasons for them, which could be useful in understanding the issues at stake.

Before tackling these questions, however, it is important to know that the Interplanetary Internet is based on DTN (Delay and Disruption Tolerant Networking) principles. The application of DTN principles has resulted in the development of the Bundle Protocol (BP) and other communications protocols such as the Licklider Transmission Protocol. These have been designed to support traffic exchange between network endpoints, even when connectivity is temporarily lost. Data is stored in the network until connectivity is restored.

In contrast to BP, the regular Internet is based on the TCP/IP protocol, which needs stable and persistent connectivity to work well. When connectivity is lost, intermediate routers discard data.

For example, if I want to send an email when there is no connection available on the Internet, I get the message that it cannot reach the destination and I will have to wait until connectivity is restored. Interestingly, for email, retransmissions take place at the application level: the email application itself keeps trying to connect. Although there are some tricks in software that can simulate DTN methods –for example, in cell phones and others– the email seems to go through eventually, but it doesn’t really go through until the end-to-end connection is established.

The beauty of DTN is that this behavior does not need to be coded into each application; this is just part of the system: you send the email with software that is BP-enabled and it will just find, by itself, when and how to travel to its destination and will be stored in the network during intervals of disrupted connectivity.

About my reasons:

First, we all know of some unstable conditions in our Internet connectivity at home or at work. This may not be a problem if I am just watching a movie; but it can become a major issue when we are using the Internet in activities such as those related to health care, sensitive industries, accounting or education. This problem is related to the way the Internet protocols work as described above. Derived from DTN principles, the Interplanetary Internet could be part of the solution to this problem. There might, however, be a challenge to overcome if the application uses high data rates (such as streaming video) since the available memory in the Internet routers could quickly become congested, blocking the flow of traffic for all applications.

Secondly, the current pandemic has demonstrated the need for a communication link to keep life running as normally as possible, and clearly the Internet has been this link, which is used for buying goods, for work and for talking with our family and friends. But sometimes connectivity problems arise, and in those situations, often all we can do is just cross our arms and get stuck and frustrated. Using the DTN principles of the Interplanetary Internet would keep data in the network until it can be sent when connectivity is restored. The same congestion question arises here. Current experiments with the Bundle Protocol on the terrestrial Internet are aimed, in part, at exploring solutions to the congestion problem.

Thirdly, many parts of our world don’t have a stable Internet connection yet, despite all the efforts done by many companies, organizations and volunteers, who work every day for this to happen. In catastrophic or crisis situations, the Internet link that would be mostly useful, gets broken because of the characteristics of the Internet protocols described above. The Interplanetary Internet would be part of the solution to this problem as well.

And fourthly, the current pandemic has also placed all of us in a situation actually quite similar to living on separate planets, in terms of personal and family care, lockdowns, exercising at home, and communicating with our loved ones through a screen. So, I am going to see the good part of it: most of us are now being trained to soon become Astronauts!

In the not-so-distant future, we may be going to visit other planets and moons in our Solar System if you’ve been following the news. We should have an Interplanetary Internet working already, so when that happens, we can connect with our loved ones here on Earth –if we are bold enough to be part of those projects!

It is important to consider that DTN technologies are not a replacement of the Internet. The Interplanetary Internet fills the gap where the Internet fails. It is possible that you cannot watch your favorite movie on BP, as you can do in the regular Internet, but when you are in a bad connectivity situation or in a catastrophic situation, the Interplanetary Internet would find its most useful application to keep your life running.

This having been said, in IPNSIG, we are working to make the Interplanetary Internet operational for normal life on Earth and in Space.

The Pilot Project Working Group (PWG) of IPNSIG, which I am honored to lead, is working on several projects, with this goal in mind. We count on the very hard work of many volunteers, who are making history by bringing the Interplanetary Internet into reality and for it to bear on normal living conditions.

Technologies like DTN today, in the same way the Internet was years ago, are being designed by inventors and creators in laboratories, universities and government agencies. Many times, these technologies are not thought at the outset as having the potential of being used for objectives that can affect and modify our normal ways of living.

It is well-known that from the creation of most inventions, it takes about 25 to 30 years until they affect normal living conditions of most people.

The Internet research project started in 1973, based on earlier work on the Arpanet which began in 1968. Work on the World Wide Web application on the Internet began in 1989 and became accessible to the public in the early 1990s.

Since the inception of DTN design until now, 23 years have passed, so the Interplanetary Internet is growing up. The project began at JPL in March of 1998, involving our colleagues on IPNSIG Board, Vint Cerf and Scott Burleigh, among others at JPL, SPARTA and MITRE. It now involves most of NASA’s laboratories and researchers in the space agencies of Korea (KARI), the European Union (ESA), Japan (JAXA), and the UN (CCSDS) as well as APL and  the Internet Engineering Task Force.

We are working on making the Interplanetary Network available in many ways.

From connecting the Clouds computers, to making it work in challenging conditions, such as:

  • The Arctic
  • Mobile phones
  • Radio communication systems
  • Verifying the stability of the operational networks
  • Making software that permits home users help us in the development of the Interplanetary Internet from their computers.
  • Share information between the several Bundle Protocol versions so as to make them compatible.
  • Connect Earth Internet and Interplanetary Internet with Space on satellites
  • Send videos and voice and music on the Interplanetary Internet.
  • Send medical records running in the Interplanetary Internet.

Some achievements by the PWG to highlight are:

  1. Connecting different Cloud computing services to the Interplanetary Internet with the Bundle Protocol.
  2. Interplanetary Internet applied in the Arctic with mobile apps and radio.
    Following reindeers and protecting the ecosystem.
  3. Medical Records for Space Exploration
    Allowing to connect Earth health care facilities’ medical records with Space systems and make it usable in Earth areas where connectivity is unstable.
  4. Video and Audio on Interplanetary Internet
    To allow visual and audio communications on the Interplanetary Internet.
  5. Space ESA-OPSAT project.
    Allowing the compatibility of different implementations of the Bundle Protocol to interconnect.
  6. Terrestrial Interplanetary Internet Testing Plan.
    Soon you will have the possibility to help us test the Interplanetary Internet technology from your computer.
  7. Interplanetary Internet Manager.
    Permits easier connectivity of Bundle Protocol Nodes on Earth tests…

From IPNSIG, we would like to hear from you and what would be your ideas to be involved in the development of the Interplanetary Internet.

Oscar Garcia

Pilot Projects Working Group Lead

Collaborators: Vinton Cerf, Yosuke Kaneko, Ernesto Yattah, Michael Snell

IPNSIG – InterPlanetary Networking Special Interest Group


April Newsletter

Does Space Matter?

Two key technologies required to enable the exploration and exploitation of the solar system are space data communications systems and space vehicle propulsion. While the development of the core communication protocols (Delay & Disruption tolerant Networking (DTN)) is quite robust, deployment and planned adoption is essentially limited to space agency missions to earth orbit and the planned Lunar Gateway and LunaNet. NASA is committed to using DTN for manned missions to Mars, but other than some high-level architecture papers, there are no concrete plans for the development of the proposed Solar System Internet (SSI). That is somewhat understandable, given the natural conservatism of space agencies and the uncertainty of long-range planning when a changeable Congress holds the budget strings.

In fact, there are many reasons for optimism about the future of DTN:

  • The IETF DTN Working Group is slowly but surely cranking out DTN standards
  • CCSDS is concomitantly cranking out Blue Books (recommended standards for civilian space flight)
  • DTN is used for some comms on ISS
  • NASA is committed to DTN for Lunar Gateway and LunaNet (after some initial hesitancy—as recently as mid 2019 they were planning to use TCP/IP)
  • NASA/JPL continues to publish updates to ION (NASA’s implementation of the Bundle Protocols)
  • Commercialization of space is coming fast– YET… adoption is slow…
    • It’s mostly all about TCP/IP for now

Need for DTN as fx of distanceThe reason for this bullet can be explained by the graphic to the left: it’s all about where business investments are now and how those regions of space are affected by delay. The vast majority of even planned commercial use of space is concentrated within Low and Medium Earth Orbit (LEO & MEO) satellites—within the green circle. There is no significant delay here and current terrestrial communication protocols (like TCP/IP) work just fine. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

The next major commercial thrust will be in cislunar space. That’s the region generally enclosed by the yellow ellipse in the graphic. Here, TCP/IP kinda sorta works, and given the NRCO orbit of the Lunar Gateway, which never loses LOS with Earth, NASA was originally tempted to use it. We wrote about this back in 2019, urging NASA to use DTN instead for a variety of reasons. Doubtless for reasons other than our blog posting, NASA decided to deploy DTN on Lunar Gateway and LunaNet. We assume that commercial entities involved in the initial business endeavors on the moon will therefore be using DTN.

The third region (depicted by the open-ended red ellipse in the graphic) is where the delay becomes so great that TCP definitely breaks. DTN will not be optional. But no one besides space agencies is doing anything out here. Yet.

The draw to exploit this region will be irresistible. “The first trillionaires will be those who mine in space”—Neal Degrasse Tyson. Forbes magazine, Bloomberg News and other pundits are predicting that commercialization of space—particularly Near Earth Asteroids (NEA’s) represents a huge business opportunity. Some go even further, saying that our ability to mine Technology-Critical Elements (TCE’s) from space is critical to the very survival of our increasingly technology-dependent civilization.

TCE’s are a group of about 35 elements (about 17 Rare Earth elements, 6 platinum group elements and another 12 “assorted” elements). They are critical to emerging technologies either because of their rarity (as in “Rare Earth Elements”) a striking increase in demand, or both. An example would be tantalum, which is required for the manufacture of capacitors and resistors contained in most electronic devices. A small number of asteroids are expected to be significant sources of these rare (on earth) elements particularly the platinum group elements. Their high value-to-mass ratio may make it worthwhile to transport them back to earth.

DTN is an established technology waiting for adoption by the emerging space industries (and buildout of required infrastructure). There is another arena where development is needed in order to support the opportunities for expanded exploration and exploitation of space: improved propulsion systems for space vehicles. There have been drastic improvements in the cost per pound of boosting satellites into orbit. That has been coupled with the miniaturization of satellites themselves to make Cube Sats available to small businesses and graduate students alike.

Sat V payload ratio

But conventional rockets are still really inefficient in terms of the amount of fuel required to put payload into orbit. This is typically expressed in terms of Payload Fraction (what percentage of the entire spacecraft launch weight does the payload represent?). While some newer platforms represent substantial improvements, most haven’t improved much since the days of the Apollo missions. Case in point: the Payload Fraction for the Space-X Starship (4.3%) is only slightly better than the Saturn V (5.3%) to boost payload into Earth orbit. However, the Payload Fraction for the Saturn V dropped to less than 1.5% when boosting to escape velocity. As the photo at left shows, even the most powerful rockets are metal tubes of mostly fuel…

There are a number of small companies involved in potentially game-changing development work on technologies like Nuclear Thermal Rockets, solar wind sails and others that can vastly improve Payload Fraction, reduce fuel costs as well as reduce travel times to Jupiter and beyond. There is an excellent webinar produced by Space Matters available on YouTube with representatives from a number of these companies discussing the technologies involved as well as the challenges to overcome. It is available for viewing at: They are a relatively new YouTube Channel, but seem to be producing several videos a month. They also have a profile of astronaut Story Musgrave and another webinar on space policy. Check them out!


PNT in Space

2021-04-27_6-52-22IPNSIG Board Member Dr. Alberto Montilla has recently written an article entitled “Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) in space”. It’s available at:

Alberto explains the basics of PNT and explains how the GPS and other PNT systems provide this service to devices like your cell phone on the earth’s surface. On the moon, PNT becomes even more critical than on earth. The lack of recognizable landmarks can make even short distance navigation hazardous (ask the Apollo 14 astronauts who almost got lost during their EVA). So NASA intends to provide PNT services as part of its LunaNet deployment on the moon. In order to leverage existing infrastructure and overcome technical challenges in extending PNT services to the moon, NASA and other agencies have been working to extend this range by taking advantage of a radiation pattern effect: the side lobe coverage.

Beyond that, NASA has been working on ways to provide PNT services to spacecraft in deep space. This required the development of highly miniaturized atomic clocks which could be launched into space. For more details on this fascinating topic, read Alberto’s article.

Hubble Telescope Spacecraft Webinar

2021-04-10_21-19-37 Hubble WebinarThe Silicon Valley Technology History Committee and IEEE LMAG will be presenting a free webinar on the Hubble Telescope Spacecraft Tuesday, April 20, 2021, from 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. PDT. Attendance is free, but you must register to attend. You may register here.

More information about the event, including a detailed abstract and speaker bios, can be viewed here.


March Board Meeting Summary

The IPNSIG Board met last Thursday, 18-Mar-2021. We wanted to update our members about that meeting and the major items discussed and decisions reached.

1) The Board decided to apply for Chapter status within ISOC later this year. The decision was made to further expand and broaden the impact of IPNSIG activities as a standing ISOC chapter. Time frame for the application process to start is probably the beginning of the third quarter. No action will be required of current members. If our application is approved, current SIG members will become Chapter members.

2) The Board confirmed that we will complete filing with the State of California and the United States Internal Revenue Service to establish our 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation status. This will greatly facilitate fund raising and is a requirement for Chapter formation.
3) The Board confirmed earlier discussions that we will continue to coordinate and assist in organizing the annual STINT Workshops. If you recall, we helped STINT last year in securing speakers for its annual workshop and in marketing the event.

4) Kaneko updated the board regarding early planning for a Projects Working Group (PWG) Workshop to be conducted as a webinar, which is to be conducted jointly with the Strategy Working Group (SWG).  Stay tuned for more information

Thanks for your continued participation and support.


Artist_s_impression_of_OPS-SAT_articleOPS-SAT is a CubeSat (small form factor satellite based upon 10CM cube-shaped modules) launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) late in 2019. Its mission: demonstrate improvements in mission control capabilities based on a cheaper, more capable (in terms of computing power) satellite platform. Even though only a 3U CubeSat measuring (exclusive of solar panels) only 96 mm × 96 mm × 290 mm (3.8 in × 3.8 in × 11.4 in) and weighing in at only 7 kg (15.4 lbs.), OPS-SAT  delivers impressive capabilities: its experimental computer is 10X more powerful than any current ESA spacecraft.

Such computational power in such a tiny package enables a lot of innovation. Space agencies have traditionally been relatively conservative when it comes to the pace of innovation, This is understandable: space vehicles and missions are expensive to plan and deploy. During the Space Shuttle era, the average NASA mission cost was $450M. This has rapidly decreased over the last 13 years. Cost per pound to put something into orbit was $10K then. Today, SpaceX is advertising $2.5K per pound.


OPS-SATsizeAs can be seen from the image at the left, OPS-SAT is really small, making it feasible to share the cost of boosting a satellite into space with many other users, substantially reducing mission costs. More specifically, tiny satellites like OPS-SAT represent much less financial risk. Larger ESA satellites can cost up to €60M to put in orbit. OPS-SAT cost only €1.4M.

Beyond lower financial risk, OPS-SAT is so robust, it can literally be rebooted if necessary to recover from an error. It’s actually a satellite within a satellite. Control can be swapped between the two and they monitor each other. This degree of robustness allows real time experimentation on critical control functions during flight.

7 years in development, it’s the first nanosatellite to be directly owned by ESA and controlled by ESA/ESOC. Its high-powered 800 MHz processor allows “normal” software (Linux, JAVA, and Python) to control the satellite. Firmware can also be upgraded during flight.

OPS-SAT’s uplink is 4 xs higher than any other ESA spacecraft. Uplinks of up to 50 mb/sec are possible on RF links. It has a laser receiver, which should be capable of even higher uplink and downlink speeds.

It’s also designed to be open in order to encourage innovation. Experiment uploads were encouraged for corporations, academic institutions and even individuals. More information about registering to become a part of the OPS-SAT community and for instructions about how to submit software for approved registration is available at: Further information about testing, uploading and running software are also available there. Experimentation on OPS-SAT is available at no cost until November, 2021.

The OPS-SAT program is innovative in both its approach to satellite hardware AND it’s organization to encourage innovation by many stakeholders. As of mid-December, 2020, 153 experiments had been registered with the OPS-SAT community.

We will continue looking into the OPS-SAT program by looking at one of its first successful experiments involving DTN. We’ll follow that with a profile of the company behind that experiment: D3TN. More coming soon…

Some short, introductory YouTube videos:



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