NASA, Harvard & TopCoder Partner to Develop a Secure Solar System Internet Protocol

Press Release From: TopCoder
Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013

TopCoder, the world's largest professional development and design community, with NASA and the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab (at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science), today announced the launch of a series of innovation challenges that will develop foundational technological concepts for disruption tolerant deep space networking.

NASA has made significant progress in developing Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocols that aide in deep space communication. DTN protocols are an approach to network architecture that seeks to address the potential for lack of continuous connectivity in deep space. It is meant to aid NASA in the exploration of the solar system by overcoming communication time delays caused by interplanetary distances, and the disruptions caused by planetary rotation, orbits and limited transmission power.

While DTN protocols are currently able to transmit information, the disruptive and time delayed environment in space makes secure communication difficult. TopCoder is challenging its members to create a mechanism by which cryptographic keys are initialized, distributed and validated while using DTN protocols in order provide secure communications over vast distances in space.

There are currently three DTN challenges available on the TopCoder website :

1. Security Key Challenge: Strengthen DTN communication by adding the ability to include cryptographic keys.

2. Delay-Tolerant Payload Conditioning (DTPC) Challenge: Validate an implementation of the DTPC protocol developed by Marshall Space Flight Center.

3. Licklider Transmission Protocol (LTP): Add "sender authentication" to the space flight implementation of the protocol.

TopCoder is inviting its members and anyone else in the world to help create the future of space exploration by participating in the DTN Challenge Series. Learn more at

Comments on the news

"Born out of a belief that 10 years in the future (i.e. about 2023) a richer networking environment than point-to-point radio links would be required to communicate, a small team of developers debated the architecture of an interplanetary Internet," said Vinton Cerf, Distinguished Visiting Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. "Today, that vision is being fulfilled with prototype operations on the surface of Mars and in orbit, on the International Space Station and on board the EPOXI comet-visiting spacecraft."

"Contest-based innovation has proven to be an important complement to existing internal efforts to solve important technological problems," said Karim R. Lakhani, Lumry Family Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and Principal Investigator of the Harvard-NASA Tournament Lab. "The Disruption Tolerant Networking challenges represent an opportunity for citizens from around the world to make fundamental contributions to the future of space exploration and have a real impact on the space program."

"The TopCoder community is helping us build a secure networking protocol to hold and transmit information that provides privacy within a time-delayed space-network," said Rinat Sergeev, NASA Tournament Lab, Data Scientist and Institute of Quantitative Social Sciences, Harvard. "This is the first time we have tapped the professional crowd to help develop a major keystone in the future era of space exploration and look forward to seeing the community's 600,000 member strong response."

About TopCoder, Inc.

TopCoder, the community division of Appirio, is the world's largest design and development community with more than 600,000 members globally. The TopCoder community creates digital assets including analytics, software and creative designs and solutions with a competitive, standards based methodology. For more information, please visit


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