COTS Cisco router launches into space aboard Intelsat satellite

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., 25 Nov. 2009. A space-tolerant router designed by Cisco, a supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet, flew into orbit aboard a satellite of Intelsat Ltd., a provider of fixed satellite services. The payload, on the Intelsat 14 satellite, is a demonstration of Internet Routing in Space for the U.S. military, which is expected to open up opportunities to improve communications connectivity around the globe.

Posted by Courtney Howard

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., 25 Nov. 2009. A space-tolerant router designed by Cisco, a supplier of networking equipment and network management for the Internet, flew into orbit aboard a satellite of Intelsat Ltd., a provider of fixed satellite services. The payload, on the Intelsat 14 satellite, is a demonstration of Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) for the U.S. military, which is expected to open up a number of commercial and military opportunities to improve communications connectivity around the globe.

The Department of Defense Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) of IRIS will be managed by Cisco and Intelsat General Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Intelsat.

The IRIS team expects to show that the payload will directly route an incoming signal on one of the satellite's C- or Ku-band transponders to ground receivers in either band while avoiding the time delay and cost of double-hopping the traffic through multiple teleports.

"We expect IRIS to connect the Internet with satellites in space for the warfighters who need seamless communication between ground-based networks and satellites used for communications," explains Kay Sears, president of Intelsat General. "Once the capabilities of IRIS are demonstrated, there could be a great deal of interest in this technology from a wide range of end users, both inside and outside of government."

Cisco used the commercial Cisco IOS Software for the on-board router, which is not unlike the routers used in Earth-based computer networks; however, it required radiation shielding for the harsh environment of space.

"Just as satellites transformed the global reach of communications and led to significant innovation, so too will the delivery of global IP-based communications services via satellite drive major cost efficiencies and flexibility to entities around the globe," says Steven Boutelle, vice president, Cisco Global Government Solutions Group. "IRIS has the potential to transform how government agencies and commercial organizations are able to buy and use IP-based network services to accomplish their missions."

The JCTD grant for the project from the DOD to Intelsat General is the first such funding ever awarded to a commercial satellite operator, says a representative.

IRIS offers several distinct advantages over conventional satellite technology. 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.

The IRIS payload will support network services for voice, video, and data communications, enabling government agencies, military units, or allied forces to communicate with one another using Internet Protocol and existing ground equipment.

"IRIS is another example of how hosted payloads allow rapid demonstrations and introductions of powerful new space technologies," says Don Brown, vice president of Hosted Payloads at Intelsat General. "This project took less than three years from JCTD start to launch, showing that the government can evaluate a pivotal new technology in space within a very short period."

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) will have overall responsibility for coordinating the demonstration of the IRIS technology among the government user community and for developing means of using the IRIS capability once the satellite is in space.

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