They are trying to set up an internet on Mars

Humanity plans to send astronauts to the red planet soon. However, the vast distance between Earth and Mars, ranging from 55 to 400 million kilometers, presents unprecedented challenges for establishing a reliable communication infrastructure.

They are trying to set up an internet on Mars

Earth is simply too far away. And traditional methods such as Wi-Fi connections to the terrestrial internet are impractical. Messages sent at the speed of light would take between four and twenty-four minutes for a one-way trip, creating a substantial time delay that hinders real-time communication. Solar conjunctions, occurring every two years for a few weeks, would further disrupt communication between the planets.

Current methods of communication on Mars

To address these challenges, space agencies are using the Mars Relay Network. This infrastructure consists of orbiters such as NASA’s Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). These orbiters relay information via antennas pointed towards Earth.

This is what allows communication with rovers such as the NASA’s Perseverance. Thus, the rover communicates with Earth using X-band radio waves and ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves.

Innovative perspectives for connecting Earth and Mars

Acknowledging the limitations of current methods, researchers are exploring innovative approaches. One promising avenue is laser communication, as demonstrated by NASA’s Psyche mission. Laser communication can carry much more data than traditional radio waves. This would open up new possibilities for interplanetary communication. However, the precision of laser signal orientation and susceptibility to atmospheric interference pose challenges.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is actively involved in exploring new communication methods through programs such as ScyLight. This program focuses on optical and quantum technologies for safe and fast communication from space.

The ESA also envisions the Mars Communication and Navigation Infrastructure (MARCONI) project. This program aims to improve the existing Mars Relay Network. MARCONI proposes the development of communication and navigation payloads that could be carried by any mission heading to Mars. This would offer a more robust communication system.

Additionally, ground communication solutions involve radiofrequency and wireless technologies, with mini-cellular relays for close communication and orbital relays for longer distances. This approach draws inspiration from existing communication practices on Earth, adapting them to the unique challenges of Mars.

SEE ALSO: Why is Pluto no longer considered a planet?

The Moon as a testing ground

To gather information and test communication technologies, space agencies are turning to the Moon. NASA’s Artemis program, for example, aims to establish a lunar 4G network. Researchers are currently testing radio wave-based networks on the lunar surface.

Additionally, ESA’s Moonlight program invites private space companies to deploy communication satellites around the Moon. These experiments provide valuable learning opportunities for future connectivity on Mars.

Towards a Martian Internet

In a visionary proposal, researchers Tobias Pfandzelter and David Bermbach from the Technische Universität Berlin suggest a constellation of 81 satellites in low orbit around Mars to provide planetary internet coverage. Drawing inspiration from SpaceX’s Starlink, this satellite constellation would offer local communications and extend the terrestrial internet to Mars.

The proposed system aims to overcome the time delay associated with real-time broadcasting and communication. For example, broadcasting a show from Earth to Mars would typically involve waiting 10, 15, or even 40 minutes for the connection.

With a cloud data storage system on Mars, the experience could be similar to that on Earth, as the data would be locally copied, allowing seamless access to content.

Challenges to overcome

Although these innovative approaches offer promises, challenges remain. The precision of orientation for laser communication, susceptibility to atmospheric conditions, and environmental factors must be addressed. Ensuring the affordability and sustainability of the proposed solutions is also crucial for the success of future Martian communication systems.

As Claire Parfitt of the European Space Agency points out, “When you set up infrastructure like this, you see many, many proposed missions.”

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