Satellite Mesh

Taking a step beyond previously mentioned live coverage of events in space, in a little over a year from now, the Department of Defense plans to actually extend the internet into space by deploying an internet router on-board a satellite:

Cisco will provide the software for an on-board router in a space project it is conducting for the U.S. Department of Defense. The Internet routing in space (IRIS) project “allows direct IP routing over satellite,” said Intelsat General Vice President Don Brown in a statement, “eliminating the need for routing via a ground-based teleport, thereby dramatically increasing the efficiency and flexibility of the satellite communications link.”Like ARPANET”IRIS is to the future of satellite-based communications what ARPANET was to the creation of the Internet in the 1960s,” he added. ARPANET was the military’s predecessor to the current Internet.

The project may lead to a completely space-based Internet. Internet traffic between satellites or space vehicles is currently routed through a remote terminal on Earth. IRIS will allow space-to-space Internet traffic to avoid traveling back to Earth, unless it needs to be finally delivered here. It’s possible the project could lead to a faster global IP network, since traffic could travel in space and only come back for delivery.

Intelsat said that, while IRIS is initially being developed for the military, it is expected that the technology will eventually be available for commercial use.

Wireless Security – Cisco Busy with Router for Space and Wireless Fixes

IRIS is a potentially very disruptive development for the broad spectrum of industries which depend on satellite interconnections. It has the makings of a transforming Erie Canal type of impact(for a fascinating, detailed account of this network effect see Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation).

What follows are a few links that provide slightly different takes on this. A good bit of info is repeated but if you are really interested in the topic it’s worthwhile. On a different day I’d take the time to synthesize them into a single post but as they say “so many links, so little time” 🙂


Several very excellent resources exist from Cisco’s successful effort to put an off-the-shelf router on the UK-DMC (Disaster Monitoring Consortium) Low Earth Orbit satellite. IRIS is a follow-on to this effort.

Potential nonmilitary benefits of the IRIS program include the ability to route IP (Internet Protocol) traffic between satellites in space in much the same way packets are moved on the ground, reducing delays, saving on capacity and offering greater networking flexibility, Lloyd Wood, space initiatives manager in the Global Defense, Space & Security division of Cisco, said Thursday.

To send a message from one remote terminal to another via satellite today requires the first terminal to send the data to the satellite, from where it is bounced back to an earth station for routing. The earth station retransmits it to the satellite on a different frequency, selected depending on its destination, and the satellite bounces it back to its destination. With the router in space, the satellite can pick the channel used to send the message to its destination. By eliminating the message’s round trip to the earth station, operators can increase satellite capacity and reduce transmission times between remote terminals by using fewer hops and fewer frequencies for each message.

IT World

The IRIS architecture and design, “allow for flexible IP packet (layer 3) routing or multicast distribution that can be reconfigured on demand,” says the company. “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 from atmospheric conditions.

“IRIS is to the future of satellite-based communications what ARPANET was to the creation of the Internet in the 1960s,” says Intelsat General’s Don Brown.


Representing the next generation of space-based communications, IRIS will serve as a computer processor in the sky, merging communications being received on various frequency bands and transmitting them to multiple users based on data instructions embedded in the uplink.

The IRIS payload 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.



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