GREENBELT, Md., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Space Network, the wireless communication system connecting astronauts inside the International Space Station to their colleagues on the ground, is getting an upgrade. The boost will double data rates.
Currently, astronauts aboard ISS are limited by a connectivity threshold of 300 megabits per second, about twice the speed of most 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," Mark Severance, network director of human spaceflight at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release. "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 consists of a constellation of relay satellites circling Earth in geosynchronous orbit. NASA spacecrafts beam data to the nearest satellite. The data is relayed from the satellite to a ground terminal and ultimately ends up at one of NASA's data centers.
The wireless communication system allows NASA to download scientific data from instruments installed on its various spacecraft. The system also allows astronauts on the space station to conduct video interviews and audio conversations.
In total, 40 NASA missions rely on the Space Network, including the Hubble Space Telescope. An average of 28 terabytes of information are transmitted across the network every day.
Ground terminals in White Sands, New Mexico, and Guam are set to receive hardware upgrades to double download speeds. A new craft will be added to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites fleet in 2017, further boosting the system's capabilities.
"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," said project manager Ted Sobchak.