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Digital Multicasting of Multiple Audio Streams

Authorized listeners can hear any or all streams in nearly real time.

The Mission Control Center Voice Over Internet Protocol (MCC VOIP) system (see figure) comprises hardware and software that effect simultaneous, nearly real-time transmission of as many as 14 different audio streams to authorized listeners via the MCC intranet and/or the Internet. The original version of the MCC VOIP system was conceived to enable flight-support personnel located in offices outside a spacecraft mission control center to monitor audio loops within the mission control center. Different versions of the MCC VOIP system could be used for a variety of public and commercial purposes — for example, to enable members of the general public to monitor one or more NASA audio streams through their home computers, to enable air-traffic supervisors to monitor communication between airline pilots and air-traffic controllers in training, and to monitor conferences among brokers in a stock exchange.

At the transmitting end, the audio-distribution process begins with feeding the audio signals to analog-to-digital converters. The resulting digital streams are sent through the MCC intranet, using a user datagram protocol (UDP), to a server that converts them to encrypted data packets. The encrypted data packets are then routed to the personal computers of authorized users by use of multicasting techniques. The total data-processing load on the portion of the system upstream of and including the encryption server is the total load imposed by all of the audio streams being encoded, regardless of the number of the listeners or the number of streams being monitored concurrently by the listeners.

The personal computer of a user authorized to listen is equipped with special- purpose MCC audio-player software. When the user launches the program, the user is prompted to provide identification and a password. In one of two access-control provisions, the program is hard-coded to validate the user’s identity and password against a list maintained on a domain-controller computer at the MCC. In the other access-control provision, the program verifies that the user is authorized to have access to the audio streams.

Once both access-control checks are completed, the audio software presents a graphical display that includes audiostream- selection buttons and volume-control sliders. The user can select all or any subset of the available audio streams and can adjust the volume of each stream independently of that of the other streams. The audio-player program spawns a “read” process for the selected stream(s). The spawned process sends, to the router(s), a “multicast-join” request for the selected streams.

The router(s) responds to the request by sending the encrypted multicast packets to the spawned process. The spawned process receives the encrypted multicast packets and sends a decryption packet to audio-driver software. As the volume or muting features are changed by the user, interrupts are sent to the spawned process to change the corresponding attributes sent to the audio-driver software. The total latency of this system — that is, the total time from the origination of the audio signals to generation of sound at a listener’s computer — lies between four and six seconds.

This work was done by Mitchell Macha of Johnson Space Center and John Bullock of LiCom. For further information, contact the Johnson Technology Transfer Office at (281) 483-3809.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Johnson Space Center, (281) 483-0837. Refer to MSC-23349.