Internet routing blasts into space

Cisco space router onboard Intelsat satellite to test orbital IP network

Intelsat's new satellite
A radiation-proof Cisco router was sent into space today aboard an Intelsat satellite with the goal to set up military communications from space. 

The router/satellite combo are a key part of the US Department of Defense's Internet Routing In Space (IRIS) project, which aims to route IP voice, video and data traffic between satellites in space in much the same way packets are moved on the ground, reducing delays, saving on capacity and offering greater network flexibility, Cisco stated. 

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IRIS will be managed by Cisco and Intelsat General, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat. The Cisco IRIS payload will convert to commercial use following the three-month technology demonstration, set to begin in January 2010.   

The IRIS program expects to show that the payload will directly route an incoming signal on one of the satellite's C- or Ku-band transponders to a number of ground receivers in either band while avoiding the time delay and cost of double-hopping the traffic through multiple teleports, the companies stated. The system should allow for layer 3 routing or multicast distribution that can be reconfigured on demand. 

According to NetworkWorld's Cisco Subnet blog, the router measures about 24 inches by 18 inches by 18 inches and is expected to have a throughput of about 100Mbps. That's small potatoes by land lovers' standards, but is "unprecedented in orbit," Cisco says. And, it will include Cisco's full IOS software. It was also built to sip lightly on the power supply as the satellite must operate on 5,000 to 7,000 watts of power from its solar panels and can only spare a few of them for the hitchhiking router. 

IRIS offers several distinct advantages over conventional satellite technology, the companies stated. IRIS can route data to multiple ground receivers in a single step, increasing transponder utilization. Because the payload regenerates the signal, its power is increased slightly, allowing a reduction in the size of sending and receiving terminals, particularly important for mobile applications. 

In addition, the Cisco router software and onboard modem can be upgraded from the ground. Cisco says its Space Routers let customers implement routed services on the satellite using the same Cisco IOS IP routing used on ground station.

Cisco has other routers in space.  For example its Mobile Access Router 3251 is part of the UK-DMC satellite, part of the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) used for observing the Earth for major disasters.

Earlier this year NASA and Cisco said they would work together to develop the Planetary Skin as an online collaborative platform to capture and analyze data from satellite, airborne, sea- and land-based sensors across the globe. This data will be made available for the general public, governments and businesses to measure report and verify environmental data in near-real-time to help detect and adapt to global climate change. 

The IRIS project is only one component of the Intelsat IS-14 satellite. Once operational, it will replace Intelsat's aging 1R satellite, providing customers with capacity that has a useful life slated to last the next 16 years, the company says. 

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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