Paradigm Signs Up for Demo of Cisco’s IRIS Payload

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SAN FRANCISCO — Military telecommunications services provider Paradigm Secure Communications of Britain and its owner, Astrium Services, will test an Internet router aboard a commercial satellite under a partnership agreement with router manufacturer Cisco, Astrium Services announced July 15.

The agreement follows what Cisco and U.S. military officials characterized as a successful Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) demonstration that concluded just recently. Funded by U.S. Strategic Command, the experiment featured a Cisco-built router placed aboard the Intelsat 14 satellite owned by Intelsat of Luxembourg and Washington.

The military demonstration was supposed to last three months but was extended an additional month, through May 24, because of its success, officials said.

The IRIS payload has since been made available to other potential users for demonstration purposes, and Paradigm has signed up for a series of tests to be concluded in January, Astrium said. Paradigm is under a contract with the British Defence Ministry to provide all beyond-line-of-sight communications to British deployed forces, including satellite links provided by the Astrium-owned Skynet military communications satellites.

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco has leased three transponders aboard Intelsat 14 for a 12-month period that began in May to continue demonstrating the router’s uses to prospective government and commercial customers, Cisco spokeswoman Jennifer Greeson said July 16.

“We will give as much exposure as we can to end users, service providers, satellite operators and manufacturers,” said Greg Pelton, Cisco’s IRIS program manager.

Cisco has said that the router, by taking signals received in one frequency and transferring them to recipients in another frequency, could speed communications for U.S. defense forces and make coalition operations, which sometimes feature diverse types of satellite communications equipment, more efficient.

Astrium Services said it is interested in the router’s applications in providing “a more diverse range of telecommunication services in remote areas that require rapid data transfers. These would include crisis management situations, remote medical emergencies and mobile military operations,” the company said in a July 15 statement.

Intelsat 14, launched Nov. 23, carries C- and Ku-band transponders and is located at 45 degrees west longitude. Intelsat said the testing done with the U.S. Defense Department has validated the use of the Cisco hardware, which uses commercial Cisco IOS Software but adds radiation hardening to survive the space environment.

“We are confident that Cisco and Astrium’s work will continue to reveal the advantages of this technology, and Intelsat will continue to look for opportunities to create customer value by hosting IRIS payloads as we replenish our 50-plus satellite fleet,” Kay Sears, president of Intelsat General Corp., said in a July 15 statement. Intelsat General is the Intelsat division handling government business.

Michael Florio, operational manager for the IRIS Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration at the U.S. Army’s Space & Missile Defense Battle Laboratory in Colorado Springs, Colo., characterized the military’s recently completed demonstration as “a pretty big success.”

The router cut the time needed to send and receive data messages, improved the quality of voice-over-Internet communications and provided Internet access to military personnel aboard ships and islands, Florio said.

IRIS is a departure from traditional satellite networks, which rely heavily on ground-based equipment to manage traffic and process signals. IRIS puts much more of that capability on the spacecraft itself, which speeds the flow of information and offers additional bandwidth when needed to meet spikes in demand, according to Pelton.

During the Strategic Command demonstration, IRIS cut in half the time needed to send and receive data messages, Florio said. It also allowed the military to give voice-over-Internet calls and video teleconferences higher priority than routine data transmissions. The result was better quality communications, he added.

The IRIS payload also allowed the satellite to receive signals from the ground in one radio frequency band and relay them quickly to a different ground location in another band, Florio said. “We were able to send signals up in Ku-band from Europe and down in C-band to [the U.S. Army base in] Fort Gordon, Ga.,” Florio said.

Pelton said the military demonstration was the first step in an extensive campaign that  Cisco hopes will lead to the inclusion of an Internet router on every communications satellite. “Our goal is to transform the way satellites work and make them part of the Internet,” Pelton said.

Government or commercial customers who want to conduct “light levels of testing” with IRIS will be able to do so free of charge, Pelton said. For more extensive testing and long-term use, Cisco will enter into contracts with customers and provide support.

U.S. military customers interested in conducting research, testing the router’s capabilities or using it during exercises will be able to do so under new contracts, Florio said.

Cisco also plans to conduct extensive research and development as it continues to refine the IRIS hardware and software. “We are doing research and development on the next generation,” Pelton said. “We want to be able to support a lot more transponders and serve a lot more terminals.”

Cisco invests billions of dollars a year in research and development activity to improve its networking hardware and software. While that research is largely focused on terrestrial applications, much of it will be applicable to space-base Internet routers, Pelton said. IRIS is designed to be upgraded continuously with new software. “We can add capability all the time,” Pelton added.

In addition to improving military communications, the IRIS demonstration project offered a new approach to military procurement. “We were able to collaborate with industry to assess a hosted payload on a commercial satellite,” Florio said. “It allowed the Department of Defense to try the service before buying it.”

The IRIS demonstration program also offered the military quick access to a new technology. “Going from design to operational capability on a satellite in three years is quite striking as well,” Florio said.

IRIS will continue to be developed and owned by commercial industry. “It’s going to be a commercial service, and if the Department of Defense wants to use it, it will be available,” Florio said. “If commercial industry wants to use it, it will be available to them as well.”