NASA is currently testing a new communications protocol on the International Space Station (ISS) that will ultimately lead to a future “interplanetary internet” system connecting human outposts and spacecraft in the entire solar system.

The new system is expected to help the development of an interplanatery space communications system that functions much like the Internet does on Earth.

The communications protocol, called Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN), was added this month to the ISS’s Telescience Resource Kit, and is the agency’s first step toward interplanetary Internet, according to NASA.

NASA described DTN as the first step towards an interplanetary internet or solar system internet system. The DTN protocol is being developed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems DTN project. NASA said DTN is the key internet engineering technology needed for interplanetary networking.

According to NASA, it is now testing messages sent between the ISS and ground stations using delay- and disruption-tolerant networks that temporarily store data during signal interruptions because of the constant movement of spacecraft and the planets.

Information is spread on Earth over the Internet through a series of nodes, or communication points, which must be clear and available for information to transmit from one point to another. In space, however, these nodes often are not lined up because of movement.

“DTN works by providing a reliable and automatic ‘store and forward’ data network that stores partial bundles of data in nodes along a communication path until the parts can be forwarded or retransmitted, then re-bundled at the final destination — either to ground stations on Earth, robotic spacecraft in deep space, or, one day, humans living on other planets,” said NASA.

“This differs from traditional Internet Protocols that require all nodes in the transmission path to be available during the same time frame for successful data transmission.”

A networked architecture such as DTN is required for future long-duration missions to the moon, asteroids and Mars. Information takes a long time to travel across interplanetary distances, and this can cause interruptions, said NASA.

Disruption-tolerant networks improve communications by ensuring no information is lost even when a connection is interrupted. Such networks can improve communication in remote areas, which could benefit the military, disaster-relief efforts, and people living in regions with limited communications infrastructure.