When you're orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth, getting to the movie-plex to watch the latest science fiction blockbuster is a bit of a drag. But the current crew of the International Space Station will still be able to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi, according to a report from Inverse—and they'll do so while in orbit.
NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot told Inverse that the ISS crew “will be able to watch it in orbit. Don’t have a definitive timeline yet."
This is at least partially thanks to the improvements made in the ISS's communications systems in 2013. Those updates were intended to improve the "scientific output" of the space station, which once had to essentially rely on dial-up speed connections. The High Rate Communications System (HRCS) gave the ISS a massive upgrade in its downlink and uplink speeds—increasing the bandwidth of uplink from the ground to 25 megabits per second, making it qualify as broadband under FCC guidelines. The downlink speeds—the rate at which ISS can send data to ground stations—is a blazing 300 megabits per second. The high-speed networking gear and accompanying Ethernet upgrades were executed by the ISS's commander at the time, Canadian astronaut and interstellar rock star Chris Hadfield, and Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn.
HRCS is based on Ku-band radio links through NASA's Space Network, a network of nine Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) in geosynchronous orbit that link all of NASA's Earth-orbiting spacecraft to corresponding ground stations. The last link in the Space Network, TDRS-13, was launched in August. That means that while there's a big data pipe for the ISS to pull data through, there's plenty of latency—the data has to travel out deeper into space before being relayed back to whatever ground station is connected to the TDRS satellite of the moment and then back through the terrestrial network to Goddard Space Flight Center.
Despite the upgrades, the ISS astronauts will not be streaming The Last Jedi. "They typically get movies as digital files and can play them back on a laptop or a standard projector that is currently aboard," Huot said.
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