In brief: NASA's communication network recently received an upgrade for faster transmission of data to and from the International Space Station. The updated speed of 600Mbps will allow for science data, generated by experiments on board the ISS, other space missions and technology demonstrations to be relayed faster to the agency's ground equipment.

After plans to make the ISS available for commercial business, the space station received a significant boost to its communication speeds with Earth.

"NASA’s missions, both near and far, rely on quick and effective communications to relay critical mission data to control centers and scientists here on Earth. The station now supports a 600 megabit-per-second (Mbps) connection, doubling the amount of data that the station can transmit and receive at a time," said the space agency.

George Morrow, the acting director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said that NASA's communications networks play a "pivotal" role in every NASA mission as they enable data from human spaceflight, space and Earth science research missions and technological demonstrations to reach Earth. He further notes that the upgraded network speed for the ISS shows the agency's commitment to providing high-quality operational services for current and future exploration missions.

The upgraded speed will also enable new experiments and technology demonstrations that astronauts can only perform on the ISS. These require higher resolution or more detailed data than previously possible.

The ISS uses a system of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), placed strategically in high orbit, that employ radio signals to communicate with ground-based antennas called the Space Network. The network then sends these signals to various NASA centers via landlines, which the agency's computer systems convert to readable data. This process is reversed when data is sent back from Earth to ISS and the operation is performed with less than a one-second delay.

Commenting on the Space Network upgrade, Project Lead Risha George said that "Operational use of these advanced waveforms proves that they can also be used for future missions, such as on the Gateway, a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon and provide a stepping stone to human exploration on Mars."

To enable this upgrade, the Space Network received a new digital ground architecture, better data processors, enhanced routers, equipment and software for the ground stations while technicians updated the ISS' software-based modem. The terrestrial data lines between the various Earth-based components also received an improvement in circuitry and bandwidth.