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Router technology creeps into the space age

IRIS project opens up IP routing over satellite

Saturn in colour: image from Cassini-Huygens spacecraft

US military boffins are planning to put a satellite-based router into orbit.

The three-year Internet Routing In Space (IRIS) project is due to see a satellite that will aid military communications launched in the first quarter of 2009.

Satellite operator Intelsat will handle the management of the project with Cisco supplying the software technology. Denver-based Seakr Engineering has been picked to manufacture router hardware capable of surviving the extreme temperature and radiation hazards of space.

The IRIS payload will support network services for voice, video, and data communications, enabling military units to communicate with one another using more cheaply and efficiently using Internet protocol and existing ground equipment.

"The IRIS architecture allows direct IP routing over satellite, eliminating the need for routing via a ground-based teleport, thereby dramatically increasing the efficiency and flexibility of the satellite communications link," explained Don Brown, VP of hosted payload programs for Intelsat General.

The satellite will be placed in geostationary orbit at 45 degrees West longitude offering coverage of Europe, Africa and the Americas. Commercial services will be offered from the satellite once successful testing has been completed. "IRIS is to the future of satellite-based communications what ARPANET was to the creation of the internet in the 1960s," Intelsat's Brown added.

Networking switches have been carried on the space shuttle in the past but the IRIS project will place networking technology in permanent orbit, an important step towards creating an interplanetary internet. The Interplanetary Internet, the brainchild of net founder Vint Cerf, involves a project to create networking nodes in space along with developing protocols that tolerate the delays and interference found in space. The idea is to replace expensive one-of-a-kind space communication technology with more general purpose kit, adapted from widely used IP technologies. ®

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