Back in the 1960s, it was a US Defense Department agency, DARPA, that created the network that has become the Internet. Now, the DOD has approved and funded a new project, Iris, that might wind up jump-starting a new chapter in Internet history - the wired cosmos.
The BBC reports that the Iris project's goal is to put a "space-hardened" Internet router in space by 2009. It will allow voice, video and data communications for US troops using standards developed for the internet.
Ultimately, the project could enable satellites to send data directly between one another, rather than routing it via earth-based stations. Eventually Iris could extend the net into space, allowing data to flow directly between satellites, rather than sending it via ground stations. That would be a first step towards creating an interplanetary Internet, with obvious implications for connectivity with the International Space Station and even moon-based installations.
"Iris is to the future of satellite-based communications what Arpanet was to the creation of the internet in the 1960s," said Don Brown, of Intelsat General, one of the companies who will build the platform.
The space router will be developed by Cisco; the geostationary satellite, IS-14, will be built by Intelsat.
Iris will allow troops in the remotest regions of Europe, Africa and the Americas to have Internet access. It would seem to also make it much more possible to bring Internet to those poor regions of the world.
"Iris extends the internet into space, integrating satellite systems and the ground infrastructure for warfighters, first responders and others who need seamless and instant communications," said Bill Shernit, CEO of Intelsat general.