NASA and Vint Cerf (Google VP, co-creator of the internet, nerd legend) have been working on updating our antiquated radio communications system for space for nearly a decade now, and a recent successful test represents the first step towards the goal of creating a deep space internet. Using software called Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN) the team at NASA was able to transmit dozens of space images to and from a science spacecraft located about 20 million miles from Earth.
Unlike TCP/IP, DTN does not assume an continuous end-to-end connection. Delays can occur in a host of situations (like when a spacecraft moves behind a planet or when a solar storm occurs) so the protocol has to be robust...and patient. With DTN, data packets are not discarded when a destination path cannot be found. Instead, each network node stores data until it can safely communicate with another node. It may take a little longer, but the data will eventually get there. The second round of testing will occur next summer when DTN software will be installed aboard the International Space Station. Over the course of the next few years, NASA hopes to have the technology aboard a wide variety of space missions. [NASA]