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Cisco Webex desires to assist NASA astronauts in placing video calls while in orbit

Cisco asserts that the Orion spacecraft’s 25-day unmanned tour around the moon, known as NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, provided valuable insights about how to improve the Webex platform.

Callisto included an Alexa and an iPad running Webex as part of its “technology-demonstration payload,” which was protected from radiation.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin worked with cloud providers Amazon and Cisco to put their Orion capsule through its paces throughout the voyage.

Alterations to WebEx

Callisto’s goal was to test whether or not consumer technology of the present day could be utilised successfully in outer space. Since astronauts are often separated from their loved ones for extended periods of time during space missions, Cisco hoped that Webex would make it easier for them to communicate face-to-face with people back on Earth.

Since there was no one on board to monitor the action, cameras were set up to watch the iPad in an attempt to transmit live footage from mission control. Cisco also included automatic macros into the programme to facilitate its use.

TechRadar Pro was in attendance at a recent event when Cisco’s VP of Product Management, Jono Luk, discussed the specific obstacles Cisco encountered in enabling earth-to-space video communications.

The inability to connect to the internet was a source of frustration. Webex had to utilise NASA’s deep space network—a system of three satellite dishes located around the globe used for communicating with spacecraft—to send and receive video.

Webex developers had to make adjustments to the software to reduce the size of the video signals by a factor of 10 while still maintaining usable quality since Cisco was only given a bandwidth of around 128kb/s.

The delay was the other issue. According to Luk, the average delay experienced while using Webex between two locations on Earth is just 40-100 milliseconds, however the latency experienced during Artemis 1 was between five and seven seconds. There were never any noticeable delays like this while using Webex on the ISS. In order to keep the visual and audio in sync despite the delay, engineers had to develop new algorithms.

Cisco also picked up a non-technical yet important life lesson. They spent some time testing Callisto during the trip, and according to Luk, they found that delayed communication issues might be mitigated by utilising drawings and photos instead, through the whiteboard capability inside Webex and a Cisco Webex Board at mission control.

Luk pointed out that, since virtual scrawls contain less data than video feeds, they can be sent more quickly, therefore employing these approaches is not only faster for transmitting certain concepts than a direct camera feed.