In a program designed to provide Internet protocol (IP) services to warfighters and other military personnel anytime and anywhere, the U.S. Department of Defense unveiled April 11 a public-private program to test Internet Routing In Space (IRIS).
Managed by Intelsat General, the program is one of seven projects that will be funded fiscal 2007 as a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration by the Pentagon. The U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency will have overall responsibility for coordinating use of the technology among government users and for developing means of leveraging the capability.
As the military's next generation of space-based communications, IRIS will serve as an orbiting computer processor, merging communications received on various frequency bands and transmitting them to multiple users based on data instructions embedded in the uplink. IRIS will support network services for voice, video and data communications, enabling military units or allied forces to communicate with one another using Internet protocol and existing ground equipment.
The payload will interconnect a C-band and two Ku-band coverage areas. The IRIS architecture and design allow for flexible IP packet routing or multicast distribution that can be reconfigured on demand. With the on-board processor routing the up and down communications links, the IRIS payload is expected to enhance satellite performance and reduce signal degradation due to atmospheric conditions.
"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," Don Brown, Intelsat General's vice president of hosted payload programs, said in a statement.
Cisco Systems will provide commercial IP networking software for the on-board router while Seakr Engineering Inc. will manufacture the space-hardened router and integrate it with the payload.
Intelsat previously announced that Space Systems/Loral will manufacture the satellite, IS-14, which is set for launch in the first quarter of 2009 and will be placed in geostationary orbit at 45 degrees West, covering Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Concerto Advisors, a financial advisory firm, is organizing equity financing for a new company that will provide the funds to design, build and operate the equipment for the demonstration.
As described by Rick Sanford, Cisco Systems' director of space and intelligence for its global government solutions group, making modifications to already-existing commercial systems will allow the U.S. military to use them relevantly and provide a truly global reach.
"Cisco provides systems handling about 75 percent of the Internet," Sanford said, adding that "in space systems, almost all are using Cisco equipment." In practical terms, this automatically allows for cost reductions in acquisition and maintenance, he said.
Because payloads can now be manufactured using compatible off-the-shelf hardware instead of being designed and procured by unique program specifications, "it simplifies the system and maintenance support, and the life cycle support as well," Sanford said. "Today we expect to communicate anywhere, so the demand is different than it had been. There were a lot of things that conspired to allow the technology," including current technological capability and evolved expectations among users. Added to that, "budgets are shrinking, and opportunities are ripe for companies like us," he said
Just as there is significant interest for satellite technology among private citizens, demand also is increasing among the military branches, Sanford said.. "Whether it's using Voice Over IP, pictures, video chats or real-time collaboration, the full suite of networks is available," he said, adding that the employment of a satellite constellation has less call for ground-based stations, and their protection and upkeep.
"It's a business approach and a commercial approach that shows incentive," Sanford said. "We see this as the next wave."
Since many of the services provided to the commercial and military marketshare identical, it allows for economies of scale to be exploited. While costs are always a consideration, working in space is particularly difficult and expensive.
Ultimately, said Sanford, "the military can answer for themselves their questions about its capabilities. On the commercial side, we will see answers very quickly, lessons learned and rolled into second and third to [still future] payloads."
Once the three-year program is completed, the IRIS payload will become the property of a Concerto affiliate, and Intelsat will operate the payload to provide services for government and commercial users.
"IRIS extends the Internet into space, integrating satellite systems and the ground infrastructure for warfighters, first responders and others who need seamless and instant communications," Bill Shernit, president and CEO of Intelsat General, said in a statement. "IRIS will enable U.S. and allied military forces with diverse satellite equipment to seamlessly communicate over the Internet from the most remote regions of the world."
-- J.J. McCoy