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Independent Space Industry Group Formed To Advance Interoperability In Satellite And Ground System Networks

Digital IF Interoperability Consortium created under the auspices of IEEE-ISTO to develop technical standards and promote interoperation across systems

Leading companies and organizations in the space industry, including two major branches of the U.S. Department of Defense, have come together to form the Digital IF Interoperability (DIFI) Consortium, a non-profit industry group created to advance interoperability among space and ground system networks. Formed under the auspices of The IEEE Industry Standards and Technology Organization (ISTO), an international federation of leading industry groups and consortia dedicated to the advancement of standardized technologies for the benefit of industry. The founding board members include Hawkeye 360, Intelsat Corp. (OTCMKTS: INTEQ), Kongsberg Satellite Services AS (KSAT), Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. (NASDAQ: KTOS), Kymeta Corp. and Microsoft, as well as founding government member the U.S. Navy. Other U.S. military service branches have also expressed interest in working with the Consortium.

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The mission of DIFI is to enable the digital transformation of space, satellite and related industries by providing a simple, open, interoperable Digital IF/RF standard that replaces the natural interoperability of analog IF signals and helps prevent vendor lock-in. The newly formed consortium is in the process of implementing administrative structures and recruiting additional member companies and organizations with an interest in space networks to become active participants in DIFI.

According to Stuart Daughtridge, SVP of Advanced Technology at Kratos who will serve as DIFI’s initial chairman, “Framework standards exist today for digital IF, but they do not assure interoperability between vendor systems. DIFI’s goal is to create and promote easy-to-implement standards for Digital IF systems that will enable satellite operators, including commercial and government operators, to confidently design, build, operate and evolve multi-vendor satellite networks and ground systems.”

“Space technologies are an area of tremendous innovation today especially in the areas of networks and software-defined systems,” said Marco W. Migliaro, IEEE-ISTO president and CEO. “We are pleased to support standards-building efforts which will continue industry innovation through the ability of these systems to work together.”

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While other industries have capitalized on using virtualization, cloud and other network technologies, the space industry is still early in its digital transformation process and faces unique challenges, including the lack of certain key standards. This has led to stovepipes within and across space networks used for both earth observation and communications purposes.

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“Achieving interoperability in space network systems is critical as the industry looks to virtualization to enable new and improved capabilities,” commented Ben Hilburn, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft Azure and a DIFI board Director. “Cloud-based services, such as Microsoft Azure Orbital managed ground station service, unlock new capability and reduce cost for operators. With virtualization, these services support many customers with a variety of missions and infrastructure needs.”

“Achieving Interoperability across the many networks in the U.S. government that supply, use or consume satellite-related data is a mission critical imperative, especially within the Department of Defense,” commented William Joo, PEO C4I PMW/A 170 Special Projects Engineer who will represent the U.S. Navy as a member of DIFI. “This need becomes even more important when looking across systems used by allies around the world.”

The DIFI board has approved version 1.0 of an interoperability standard based upon VITA 49, entitled IEEE-ISTO Std 4900-2021: Digital IF Interoperability Standard. VITA 49 is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard already widely used in satellite and software-defined radio applications. With the support of ANSI, the DIFI-led IEEE-ISTO standard effort will build upon the current VITA 49 by adding framework definitions to enhance inter-vendor interoperability. These enhancements will be held to a minimal set that will assure data can be transmitted easily and securely to work between systems, while leaving vendors and operators flexibility in how they transport and use digitized RF data.

According to Carmel Ortiz, VP, Systems Innovation at Intelsat and a DIFI board Director, “As the foundational architects of satellite communications, Intelsat has a long history of supporting open standards and interoperability. The future of our industry is software-defined, virtualized, and digital; expanding this to our ground networks is essential to interoperate with our customers and supply chain partners.”

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