Cisco Shoots For The Stars - InformationWeek

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06:01 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Cisco Shoots For The Stars

Satellite company uses off-the-shelf Cisco router in space; networks could extend to the cosmos

Is space the final frontier for enterprise networking? The United Kingdom's Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. last week launched a rocket into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia, roughly 500 miles north of Moscow. Aboard was a satellite powered by an off-the-shelf Cisco Systems router--a development that could reduce the cost of building communications satellites and allow businesses to extend their networks into the cosmos.


Surrey Satellite used a Cisco router to power a recent satellite
"We want to make space more affordable and more of a reality for enterprise users," says Rick Sanford, director of space initiatives for Cisco's Global Defense and Space Group.

Businesses often use satellite communications systems for point-to-multipoint communications, such as sending data from the main office to dozens or hundreds of branch offices. Most satellites use specialized, proprietary hardware and software to communicate with the ground, and that requires major development costs as well as tricky network design and maintenance. But since this British satellite (called UK-DMC) uses a Cisco 3251 Mobile Access Router and standards-based Cisco software, it was not only cheaper to make but sets the stage for standard IP networks in orbit.

Because of the harsh temperatures in orbit, designers had to change some capacitors and connectors on the router. But by beginning with affordable commercial hardware (the 3251 retails for about $3,250) they were still able to significantly reduce costs. And by using the same standards-based mobile IP software that businesses do on Earth, the satellite system also sets the stage for the project's ultimate goal, extending enterprise networks into space.

The UK-DMC satellite will be used as part of a network of orbiting Earth-observation platforms, dedicated to taking images of the planet to monitor natural resources or to provide pictures in the event of a natural disaster.

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