NASA is moving toward a network-centric communications architecture and, in particular, is building toward use of Internet Protocol (IP) in space. The use of IP is motivated by its ubiquitous application in many communications networks and in available commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. The Constellation Program intends to fit two or more voice (over IP) channels on both the forward link to, and the return link from, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) during all mission phases. Efficient bandwidth utilization of the links is key for voice applications.

In Voice over IP (VoIP), the IP packets are limited to small sizes to keep voice latency at a minimum. The common voice codec used in VoIP is G.729. This new algorithm produces voice audio at 8 kbps and in packets of 10-milliseconds duration.

Constellation has designed the VoIP communications stack to use the combination of IP/UDP/RTP protocols where IP carries a 20-byte header, UDP (User Datagram Protocol) carries an 8-byte header, and RTP (Real Time Transport Protocol) carries a 12-byte header. The protocol headers total 40 bytes and are equal in length to a 40-byte G.729 payload, doubling the VoIP latency. Since much of the IP/UDP/RTP header information does not change from IP packet to IP packet, IP/UDP/RTP header compression can avoid transmission of much redundant data as well as reduce VoIP latency. The benefits of IP header compression are more pronounced at low data rate links such as the forward and return links during CEV launch.

IP/UDP/RTP header compression codecs are well supported by many COTS routers. A common interface to the COTS routers is through frame relay. However, enabling IP header compression over frame relay, according to industry standard (Frame Relay IP Header Compression Agreement FRF.20), requires a duplex link and negotiations between the compressor router and the decompressor router. In Constellation, each forward to and return link from the CEV in space is treated independently as a simplex link. Without negotiation, the COTS routers are prevented from entering into the IP header compression mode, and no IP header compression would be performed.

An algorithm is proposed to enable IP header compression in COTS routers on a simplex link with no negotiation or with a one-way messaging. In doing so, COTS routers can enter IP header compression mode without the need to handshake through a bidirectional link as required by FRF.20. This technique would spoof the routers locally and thereby allow the routers to enter into IP header compression mode without having the negotiations between routers actually occur. The spoofing function is conducted by a frame relay adapter (also COTS) with the capability to generate control messages according to the FRF.20 descriptions. Therefore, “negotiation” is actually performed between the FRF.20 adapter and the connecting COTS router locally and never occurs over the space link. Through understanding of the handshaking protocol described by FRF.20, the necessary FRF.20 negotiations messages can be generated to control the connecting router, not only to turn on IP header compression but also to adjust the compression parameters. The FRF.20 negotiation (or control) message is composed in the FRF.20 adapter by interpreting the incoming router request message. Many of the fields are simply transcribed from request to response while the control field indicating response and type are modified.

This work was done by Sam P. Nguyen, Jackson Pang, Loren P. Clare, and Michael K. Cheng of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at  under the Electronics/Computers category. NPO-47052

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Enabling IP Header Compression in COTS Routers Via Frame Relay on a Simplex Link

(reference NPO-47052) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the October, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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