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This article was Originally Published on Jul 10, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 3

Cisco Systems Inc.

Interview with Richard Sanford

Director, Space Initiative: Global Defense and Space Group

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Richard Sanford is the director of space initiatives for Cisco Systems Inc. Global Defense and Space Group (GDSG). He works with leaders from public and private sector space communities to develop advanced technology solutions to meet the needs of next generation space communications systems.

Q: What are Cisco’s primary objectives in the space and satellite arena?

A: The No.1 objective is to leverage terrestrial communications technology and standards into the space market. By doing this, we further the vision of a merged spaced ground infrastructure, where the satellites become an active player in the networking element. Not surprisingly, Cisco will look at space systems as networks first and foremost because that’s what our company heritage is; but, we hope to open a new market for the company to address, specifically infrastructure associated with network enabled space systems. For the space market itself, we hope to reduce acquisition and lifecycle costs by leveraging commercial technologies that exist and to help the industry move away from the closed standards environments that exist in space today to something that is more open standard based.

Q: What are some of the key programs and projects that will help Cisco gain that leverage and market positioning?

A: There are a couple of programs that we’re working on right now. In the military environment, the number one program of course is the Transformational Communications Architecture Initiative. We are supporting the integrators who are working on that program and looking at the networking elements of it, the information assurance aspects of it, as well as the overall architectural issues that are associated with the next generation systems for the U.S.

There are a couple of other programs that we’re working on. One that is pretty exciting for me right now is the U.K. disaster monitoring constellation satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in Guildford, England, where we have taken a commercial off-the-shelf router from Cisco and integrated it on-board the satellite. This project will enable us to test the performance characteristics of the Internet protocol in space. We intend to work with the MJPO (MILSATCOM Joint Program Office) as well as the academic and integrator communities, to start testing and characterizing the performance of commercial technologies in space to develop an empirical list of performance characteristics. Then we will decide where we need to optimize and what things need to be done in order to engender this standards in space concept that so many people are interested in today.

Another project I would like to mention is really in the commercial market space, where we look at end users’ customer premise equipment and looking at ways to take pure commercial off-the-shelf technology in a CPE environment and help with next generation end user terminals for consumer and small office and home office users. It’s kind of cross spectrum as there’s an international civil piece, a U.S. military piece and then there’s a commercial piece as well.

Q: Are you able to do that technology development and research in house? Do you have engineering capabilities within Cisco?

A: The short answer is yes and no. We do have the technologies that are terrestrially based that we think we can leverage into the market. I am saying leveraging because Cisco will never build a satellite, nor will we build the radiation-hardened processors or any of those other elements that are required in space systems. The market strategy is really to work with the global integrator community and the aerospace community and team with them to develop solutions and partnerships that will satisfy the space market demands. So, while we do have the networking expertise in-house and the capabilities to develop products for the terrestrial systems, we don’t have the expertise to develop space-based platforms or anything of the sort today. That really isn’t the focus—it’s leveraging what exists in the commercial world into the space market.

Q: Was Cisco the lead on that program?

A: The program was done in partnership with NASA Glenn Research Center under a space act agreement that we have in place with them. We are a payload on the satellite itself, but did have the lead responsibility for helping with the integration—working out the interface specifications to the satellite bus that existed, as well as the test plan and the objectives overall.

Q: That brings me to a question about Cisco’s target audience. It obviously includes commercial, government and military. Which of those do you see Cisco moving more toward the future?

A: I think the intent is to move forward in all of them to the greatest extent possible. But when you look at military systems, they are the most demanding certainly from a technology perspective, from an information assurance perspective and a reliability perspective. The work we’re doing in the military environment will probably lead the things that happen in the other markets. It’s interesting, from my perspective, space represents one of the first true macro-level areas of convergence, where space systems no longer support a specific mission or one specific purpose. There are plenty of examples out there where, even in the U.S. military, we’re leveraging commercial imagery and commercial capabilities to enhance or augment capabilities that exist today. 

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