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ISS Ethernet moves from poky 10Mbps to much faster 100Mbps thanks to new switches

Space was the final frontier for Star Trek and is now the final frontier for Ethernet networks thanks to EADS. This week the European Union’s Columbus space module carried with it the first commercial LAN in space.

The Columbus module that rendezvoused with the International Space Station carried customized ProCurve 100Mbps LAN switches. The switches according to eWeek are to both connect the computers on the space station and the scientific experiments.

The previous network on the space station used much slower 10 Mbps Cabletron LAN hubs. EWeek quotes Rolf Schmidhuber, Columbus data management system technology leader for EADS Space Transportation in Germany as saying, “Originally we only had connected our computers with the 10 megabit LAN, but we felt it wasn't fast enough. We wanted higher performance for the payloads. So we built the system to support scientific payloads accommodated in 19 inch racks, with those payloads connected to the LAN.”

EADS says it selected the ProCurve switches after evaluating switches from manufacturers including Avaya, Cisco, D-Link, Netgear and 3Com. After evaluation ProCurve 2524 switches were selected for the module. EADS says it made some customizations to the switches for safe and reliable usage in space.

Schmidhuber told eWeek, “We have taken the ProCurve as it is, without electrical modifications. The only thing we modified is the cooling method. We removed the heat sink in the switching fabric and substituted it with copper strips that conduct the heat to the housing ground plate.”

An aluminum enclosure was designed for the switches to help them withstand intense vibration associated with space flight.

Astronauts are able to get satellite TV on the International Space Station thanks to DirecTV. With this faster LAN perhaps they can get their game on with some WoW or Counter-Strike.

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By System48 on 2/14/2008 12:04:26 PM , Rating: 2
That equipment was outdated when they selected it. I know NASA's on a budget and all but seriously.

RE: Outdated
By Golgatha on 2/14/2008 12:17:00 PM , Rating: 5
Cut them a little slack. It's not like NASA is ran by a bunch of Rocket Scientists...errrr, ummmmm, nevermind.

RE: Outdated
By mallums on 2/15/2008 10:43:17 PM , Rating: 2
True. Not are not run by Rocket Scientists (tm). They are run by bureaucrats, like every other bureaucracy.

RE: Outdated
By TheDoc9 on 2/14/2008 12:18:44 PM , Rating: 4
they also have to select things with a proven reliability. Gig-ethernet is more cutting edge and as someone stated above, it likely has higher power requirements and surely produces more heat.

RE: Outdated
By DanoruX on 2/14/2008 1:00:19 PM , Rating: 2
Does it matter when they need to heat the place anyway?

RE: Outdated
By C'DaleRider on 2/14/2008 5:30:48 PM , Rating: 2
They only have to heat the place when it's in shadow.

In the fullon hit form full sunlight, on the other hand, it's all about cooling the place sufficiently. Heat is a huge problem in it.

RE: Outdated
By System48 on 2/14/2008 3:00:57 PM , Rating: 2
Yes gigabit ethernet is absolutely cutting edge, 10Gbase-T isn't even on the radar yet. (hiding in server rooms now, will be on your desktop with Intel P45/ICH10 mobo's in May)

RE: Outdated
By FITCamaro on 2/14/2008 1:36:01 PM , Rating: 3
The international space station was designed and started in the late 80s-early 90s. 100Mbit LAN wasn't available then. And back then the data requirements weren't as high as they are now.

RE: Outdated
By AlvinCool on 2/14/2008 1:49:27 PM , Rating: 2
It's not the equipment, it's the cable. They are replacing only the hubs and it's a direct plugin. The wiring is not standard off the shelf by any means, although it's terminated similarly. It's made from specialty plastics for use on the space station. There is a good chance it's shielded with copper also. Plus it's not like replacing wire in a computer room. This may not be easy to replace at all. But for peanuts they can upgrade to 100Mbit. It was a smart decision.

RE: Outdated
By System48 on 2/14/2008 3:06:33 PM , Rating: 2
What sort of cable standard is it though?

RE: Outdated
By AlvinCool on 2/14/2008 11:36:00 PM , Rating: 2
It's some varient of Cat5 simply due to when it went up. Capable of 100Mbit by simply installing new equipment

By TheNuts on 2/14/2008 12:42:13 PM , Rating: 4
At least they weren't on Token Ring

RE: 4/16
By Mr Perfect on 2/14/2008 1:39:14 PM , Rating: 3
I dunno, some had to be token something to choose 10mbit hubs.

I know, bad joke. Coat. Door.

RE: 4/16
By wwwebsurfer on 2/14/2008 4:07:27 PM , Rating: 2

RE: 4/16
By HrilL on 2/14/2008 7:31:04 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know how many devices were on there network but I mean come on they were using hubs that's 10Mb shared with everything as hubs broadcast to every device now that was a poor choice and 15mb token ring would been a little faster. Now that they have 100mb switches they should be set since they probably don't need anywhere near gigbit bandwidth.

It was still running 10BT ?
By Fnoob on 2/14/2008 11:57:56 AM , Rating: 2
That cable run might exceed the limit.

RE: It was still running 10BT ?
By Fnoob on 2/14/2008 11:59:02 AM , Rating: 2
And DAMN, for the billions we've spend, don't you think they could have gone with gigabit?

RE: It was still running 10BT ?
By Gyres01 on 2/14/2008 12:03:06 PM , Rating: 2
Now they can stream some certain contents ?? Without buffering every few seconds......

RE: It was still running 10BT ?
By ajfink on 2/14/2008 12:05:23 PM , Rating: 2
One would assume, but I doubt they even need that kind of bandwidth right now. There's a lot of stuff going on up there, but I would wager very little of it requires much network bandwidth to achieve its goals. Anything that would require so much bandwidth would probably also require prohibitive amounts of electricity to generate whatever data it would have to send in the first place.

By 3kliksphilip on 2/14/2008 1:16:45 PM , Rating: 2
It's not as if they're sharing thousands of videos around the place. (Pirate bay might be interested in buying it if that was the case... beats an oil rig any day ;)

By Claydough on 2/14/2008 1:18:58 PM , Rating: 2
NASA's requirement is less about state of the art and more about reliability. If a computer component fails(and state of the art fails significantly more often) in space its going to cost lives, and that is not a risk they want to take.

RE: Reliability
By FITCamaro on 2/14/2008 1:38:22 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Hell on the space shuttle they're still using Pentiums for the computers they bring along. Newer chips are too fragile due to the smaller size and the tremendous g's they have to pull at launch.

RE: Reliability
By Clauzii on 2/14/2008 1:44:20 PM , Rating: 2
If I remeber correct, the shuttle OS is run on redundant non-Pentium IBM hardware.

RE: Reliability
By djc208 on 2/14/2008 2:04:49 PM , Rating: 4
The big issue is the cycle time. If you look at the history of this module the technology probably wasn't that out of date when it was first started.

Some group is probably already looking into gigabit upgrades but it has to be evaluated for electrical, thermal, mechanical, cost, and safety concerns. Which can require extensive testing on even more extensive mock-ups.

Once proven it would have to be approved and funded, then bid out for completion by a contractor. Then constructed and kitted into a package with all the necessary tools and parts (since there's no running to Best Buy if a piece is missing), and verified and re-tested.

Someone has to develop a plan to remove and install the old and new pannels and equipment. The old equipment has to be stored or disposed of, the new equipment has to be set up, configured, and properly tested per some written instruction that has to be created, and all of which requires review and approval of God knows how many different departments (safety, electrical, structural, etc.), and evetually put into the schedule (more approvals).

why not fiber?
By kattanna on 2/14/2008 12:52:05 PM , Rating: 3
have to wonder why they didnt use fiber optic cable to connect everything, as it would be much better to use in space then electrical cat5 cable, irregardless of bandwidth.

RE: why not fiber?
By kextyn on 2/14/2008 1:15:09 PM , Rating: 2
Would you want to splice fiber in zero gravity? I don't know if you have any experience with fiber but those little bits of fiber that get broken don't feel too good when they get stuck in your skin or eyes.

RE: why not fiber?
By Clauzii on 2/14/2008 2:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
But they could make the cables ready on earth, since they knew how long they had to be? Maybe fibres are not good in space (yet) because of the vibrations, that copper can probably better withstand. But I'll agree with you somehow. Fibers have no problems with electromagnetic storms etc. It's also easier to spy on an electric compared to an optical signal. And fibres are lighter - but nos as flexible as copper. Making cableruns in the small compartments of a space shuttle, may need some bending that a fiber can't make.

RE: why not fiber?
By AlvinCool on 2/14/2008 11:44:43 PM , Rating: 2
Actually they tried fiber. It can't take the cold and zero gravity together. If it drops to normal space temp, what -270, in a weightless enviroment the coating comes off the fiber. On earth you can use a single filiment with no jacket and put your laser on one end and you will see it on the other. However in space that coating comes off and the transmissions beam out all over the cable. Not saying that for special tasks INSIDE the space station it could be used. But it really degrades fast in a weightless super cold enviroment

NASA isn't always "High Tech"
By Mclendo06 on 2/14/2008 1:14:27 PM , Rating: 5
Contrary to what people might think, when it comes to fligh hardware, NASA is not in the business of producing high-tech products. What NASA does produce are some extremely complex systems that rely predominantly on well-proven technology. In a system like the ISS, (really more of a system of systems), everything has to connect over well-defined interfaces. That means that you have to be very careful when you change those interfaces, and the costs of documenting and validating such a change prevent NASA from upgrading technology just because it is faster or better. Such a change would only be made if it was necessary to enable some new capability that was needed. For flight hardware, reliability is paramount, and so older, proven technology is preferred over the latest, greatest cutting-edge whatever-it-may-be unless the older technology can't perform the job. I worked for a NASA contractor that made flight hardware as a co-op for a while, and I was often found myself surprised at how low-tech but well-made the equipment that was being produced was.

RE: NASA isn't always "High Tech"
By cocoviper on 2/14/2008 1:58:08 PM , Rating: 4
You're absolutely right.

High speed hardware isn't problematic when you're dealing with consumers that have high error tolerances; but even when you move into industry standards have to be much more stringent. The most extreme example of this is space. The margin for problems are very low, so everything that goes into production has to be tested several orders of magnitude more than it would for commercial or even industrial uses.

Take a look at the Space Shuttle's Computers- computers of that type literally do not even exist anymore outside of the space shuttle. And it's not because they are high performance at all, it's because system specifications have to be selected very early in the design process. This means by the time the go through several revisions, years of testing, and finally production they are guaranteed to be out of date. Especially when it comes to fast changing components like computers.

Try to imagine if your computer was designed to NEVER go down, that individuals’ lives depended on it, and it was linking billions of dollars of equipment from several countries in space (the most electrically nightmarish environment possible). Then you can imagine it would take a bit more time for a company to design, redesign, test, redesign, test, lather rinse repeat, etc...until they got it as close to flawless as possible.

Network Speed
By techfuzz on 2/14/2008 3:40:39 PM , Rating: 2
With this faster LAN perhaps they can get their game on with some WoW or Counter-Strike.

But really... What kind of ping times are they gonna have? ;-)


RE: Network Speed
By JediJeb on 2/14/2008 5:46:24 PM , Rating: 2
Ping for them would be less than 1/2 what it is for people trying to use satellite internet down here, only a one way trip for the signal.

RE: Network Speed
By HrilL on 2/15/2008 12:11:03 AM , Rating: 2
true but have you ever played cs with 150ms? I'll pass but they could play wow without any problems. Or Good old StarCraft!

NASA Shuttle Computer
By jonnyrocket on 2/14/2008 7:13:34 PM , Rating: 3
If my core memory hasn't suffered too much bit rot the shuttle uses four IBM AP-101C computers and one by Rockwell as a sanity check. They are re-purposed B-52 nav computers with maybe improved radiation hardening (Think Nukes).

For extra credit: What does the "nuclear circumvention" instruction do?

I spent a year as a NASA subcontractor doing ethernet telemetry for the shuttle payloads. The big fight was management that wanted to hook the payload up to the internet. The security cognicenti couldn't get through to them on why that would be a bad idea.

By duthoy on 2/15/2008 8:58:44 AM , Rating: 2
maybe they could use wifi, no need for security!
there won't be any chance the neigbours would connect to their network,
not a chance!

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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