MILCOM 2008

DISA, Hughes to test satellite mesh networking for DOD apps

Although the future of the Transformational Satellite Communications (TSAT) program remains somewhat uncertain, the Defense Information Systems Agency is investigating commercial alternatives that could bridge the gap and provide high-bandwidth satcom networks now.

On Nov. 10, DISA and Hughes Network Systems LLC signed a cooperative research and development agreement to study how Hughes' Spaceway 3 satellite and the Regenerative Satellite Mesh-A technology on which it is based might seamlessly extend the reach of the Defense Department's Global Information Grid via satellite communications.

At the Milcom 2008 conference in San Diego this week, Hughes demonstrated some of the capabilities DISA officials hope to tap into, including high-definition multipoint videoconferencing and the ability to provide a large number of simultaneous voice and data links.

"The nice thing about it in a battlefield environment is that you can still have the reachback capability but also have peer-to-peer connections," said Dan Fraley, chief technical officer and general manager of defense and intelligence systems at Hughes.

"Video is a key aspect of what [DISA] is looking at," Fraley told Defense Systems. The packet-replication and multicasting capability on the satellite "makes for a much more natural videoconferencing capability than you get from ground systems."

"I think there are some other more pure IP applications they're looking at — collaboration tools, things like that,” he added. “We've done some things with them on collaborative tools."

Spaceway 3 is a Ka-band satellite that has built-in routing and a packet-replication capability, which allow it to serve as the basis for a broadband mesh network and provide IP multicasts — meaning that users can connect to applications such as videoconferencing without the need to route traffic through a ground station. About 70,000 commercial customers rely on a Spaceway 3 satellite for broadband Internet access; two other Spaceway satellites owned by DirecTV are used for video distribution.

But although Spaceway 3 can provide significant capabilities, it's not a replacement for TSAT. It can't provide on-the-go networking, and its coverage is limited to the continental United States.

"We don't want to set expectations that that's what they're doing," Fraley said. However, on-the-go capabilities could be part of the research and development that takes place under the agreement with DISA, he added.

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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