NASA To Test RFID-Enabled Access Cards

The access cards will be used to regulate entry at the space agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
NASA is about to begin testing access cards with built-in radio-frequency identification chips at its Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The cards will contain encrypted numbers that are read and unscrambled by RFID readers to ensure that only authorized personnel can enter the facility.

Royal Philips Electronics, a Netherlands semiconductor maker, is providing the RFID chips. NASA has contracted systems integrator Maximus Inc. to put together the RFID-enabled smart-card system.

If the trial is successful and the U.S. government's Office of Management and Budget approves the project, NASA plans to deploy more than 100,000 smart cards before the end of the 2005 fiscal year, according to Manuel Albers, director of business development for Identification Americas at Philips. That total includes cards for contractors and government employees.

The Philips RFID chip, called the Mifare DESFire V0.6, to be used on the cards complies with U.S. government's Government Smart Card Interoperability Specification (GSC-IS) standard. The standard will help ensure that all U.S. government agencies' physical-access systems can work together.

The Mifare DESFire chip can be erased and rewritten so cards can easily be voided if an employee loses one or leaves the agency. The RFID technology is similar to that which is called for in both Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s and the Department of Defense's RFID mandates for their supply chains, Albers says. One difference, however, is that the Mifare DESFire chip must be read from three to four inches away.

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