Space-based router promises more reliable communications

The Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) program is working on building radiation-tolerant IP for satellite and related spacecraft, supporting voice, video and data communications.

The first IP router on a commercial satellite has successfully passed its in-orbit test, moving the military and commercial customers closer to an era of faster satellite communications.

The Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) technology is expected to reduce latency and increase efficiency, said Steven Boutelle, vice president of Cisco Global Government Solutions Group. Boutelle, who served as the U.S. Army’s chief information officer prior to joining Cisco, said IRIS can route data to multiple ground receivers in a single step, eliminating the need to double-hop to a teleport, reducing latency and increasing transponder utilization. The router and modem software can be upgraded in orbit, increasing flexibility and lowering costs.

The IRIS program is a Defense Department Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) managed by Cisco and Intelsat General Corp.

The technology behind IRIS is a combination of Cisco’s IOS (Internet Operating System) networking software and a radiation-tolerant IP router. It was launched via Intelsat’s IS-14 Geostationary Earth Orbiting satellite on Nov. 23, 2009. Space Systems/Loral integrated IRIS as a hosted payload on its commercial satellite that it provided to satellite services operator Intelsat.

“Cisco’s IRIS technology has the potential to transform how the government uses satellite services for military and other communications,” said Michael Florio, JCTD operational manager for the Space and Defense Battle Lab.

IRIS is a program to build a radiation-tolerant IP for satellite and related spacecraft, supporting voice, video and data communications. Because it utilizes IP, government, military and alliance forces will be able to expand their mobile network, allowing them to connect and communicate without reliance on a predefined, fixed infrastructure.

"The IRIS demonstration is an important first step toward making Internet routing in space a reality that could ultimately enable the Intelsat system to make more efficient use of bandwidth," said Kay Sears, president of Intelsat General Corp. "By eliminating the need for routing at a ground-based teleport, we can dramatically increase the efficiency, flexibility and data throughput of satellite links."

The in-orbit test was conducted using SEAKR Engineering’s Application Independent Processor (AIP), which hosted the router and software-defined radio functions, enabling dynamic satellite routing reconfigurations and updates from the ground.

“IRIS represents the most powerful reconfigurable processor ever flown,” said Paul Murray, SEAKR’s director of IP and Reconfigurable Processors.

IRIS will become commercially available when JCTD completes its testing in April. The Defense Information Systems Agency will have overall responsibility for coordinating the technology demonstration and usage development among the government user community.

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