The US military plans to test an internet router in space, in a project that could also benefit civilian broadband satellite communications.
Cisco Systems and Intelsat General are among the companies selected by the US Department of Defence for its Internet Routing In Space (Iris) project, which aims to deliver military communications through a satellite-based router.
Satellite operator Intelsat will manage the three-year Iris project, with Cisco providing IP networking software for the on-board router. After testing, the technology will be available for commercial use.
Potential non-military benefits of the Iris programme include the ability to route Internet Protocol (IP) traffic between satellites in space in much the same way packets are moved on the ground, reducing delays, saving capacity and offering greater networking flexibility, said Lloyd Wood, space initiatives manager at Cisco’s global defence, space and security division.
At present, sending a message from one remote terminal to another via satellite requires the first terminal to send the data to the satellite, from which it is bounced back to an earth station for routing. The earth station re-transmits it to the satellite on a different frequency, selected according to the intended destination, and the satellite bounces it to its destination.
But with the router in space, the satellite can pick the channel used to send the message to its destination. By eliminating the message's round trip to the earth station, operators can increase satellite capacity and reduce transmission times.
"You save on delays and capacity by not having to go back to the ground," said Wood. "And once you have smarter satellites, you can treat them as not completely separate but as part of your IP network and manage them as you do your IP networking assets on the ground.
“They become fully integrated with your terrestrial network, allowing you to take advantage of existing management tools and also decrease the number of ground stations."
The IRIS payload will support network services for voice, video and data. The system is designed to support IP packet Layer 3 routing or multicast distribution, which can be reconfigured on demand.
The satellite is set for launch in the first quarter of 2009.
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