Ben Anderson: Writing the Future of NASA’s Networks
By Katherine Schauer
March 11, 2021
Ben Anderson advocates for the network architecture of tomorrow. He recently joined the Technology Enterprise and Mission Pathfinder Office (TEMPO) as the Delay/Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) strategic enterprise lead, identifying long-term goals for the large-scale infusion of this revolutionary networking concept.
DTN is a foundational technology for NASA’s solar system internet and will bring internetworking capabilities to space. Communicating across vast distances is challenging. Here on Earth we have developed Internet Protocol (IP) to allow humans on one side of the planet to communicate with humans on the other side by just connecting to the network.
If space communications were easy, we would simply extend IP into our network architecture. However, space communications are subject to frequent delays and the unavailability of contemporaneous end-to-end links. This results in the need for additional networking protocols to meet the challenges of latency and disruption.
DTN uses a store-and-forward approach to overcome these challenges. In the event of a disruption in communications between network nodes, each node can store data until the next node becomes available — similar to how emails are saved in outboxes until a network connection is established. This assures delivery of data to the end user.
This networking approach has massive potential, allowing communications engineers to identify bottlenecks, reroute data to improve flow, and create a more robust network architecture in general. Additionally, it will allow mission teams to identify where their data is on a path and assess when they can expect it to arrive. Implementing DTN will decrease data loss and increase insight into the network.
In his role, Anderson collaborates with flight and ground teams implementing DTN into their missions. This includes missions such as the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean, Ecosystem (PACE) mission, which is set to launch in 2024. PACE will be one of the first operational users of DTN and prove the capability’s benefits for missions near Earth.
In addition to working with PACE, Anderson and his team advocate to put DTN into as many missions as possible, collaborating with upcoming missions like NASA’s lunar Gateway. The more missions that embrace DTN, the larger the network, creating more routing paths and storage stops across the solar system.
Beyond working with missions, coordinating DTN infusion also requires operational enhancements. Anderson collaborates with the Near Space Network, which uses a blend of government-owned, contractor-operated systems and commercial providers to supply communications and navigation services to near-Earth missions. Anderson updates Near Space Network providers on ongoing DTN efforts, explains DTN’s benefits, and promotes the infusion of DTN into their systems.
With large-scale implementation of DTN in both the government and commercial sectors, standardization becomes critical. Anderson’s cross-cutting strategies for DTN will create standards, concepts of operations, implementation guidelines, and security protocols. Mass interoperability between government and industry will increase the number of spacecraft that can support this node-based network.
Along with his work on DTN, Anderson is also the project manager of the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is expected to obtain the first Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) fix on the Moon. The mission is being developed in partnership with the Italian Space Agency and will fly on “Blue Ghost,” a commercial lunar lander developed by Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
When he began his career, Anderson considered himself a coder. After receiving a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland, he developed software for a number of small start-ups.
After 20 plus years in the private sector, Anderson joined the federal government. In his most recent role, he served as technical director for the Department of Defense’s Networking Securities division. The wealth of data security knowledge and experience he brings to the DTN effort from this position will help create a more robust security posture for the burgeoning network.
Outside NASA’s gates, Anderson enjoys rock climbing, playing guitar, and spending time with his wife and four children. He also writes fantasy novels, including five, self-published works entitled “The McGunnegal Chronicles.”