Its a Bird! A Plane! No, Its TDRSS

Do you need to move large-and we mean large-chunks of data from a mobile location periodically?

Do you need to move large—and we mean large—chunks of data from a mobile location periodically? Three-year-old SpaceData International LLC ( may have a solution for you. SpaceData uses NASAs Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) to haul data from nearly any point on the globe through New Mexico and Texas and then out to the Internet. The privately held company is leveraging the privatization of NASAs space-based and ground-based communications assets, which the agency was directed to commercialize in 1996.

SpaceDatas first service is called SeismicStar. Aimed at the oil exploration market, SeismicStar collects and transmits terabyte-sized files of marine geophysical seismic data from acquisition vessels in the ocean directly to land-based supercomputers. The key to the whole operation is speed. With a transmission speed of 311Mbps, Jay Gnowles of SpaceData says, "We can transfer data faster than any other satellite system in operation."

With that kind of bandwidth, the company can transmit a 170GB file from the ship to the ground in a little under 75 minutes. Sounds fast—but thats only the beginning. With the deployment of newer technology under the guise of the TDRSS-H, -I and -J satellites, channels with higher speed (the Ka-band, operating at 23GHz and 25GHz to 27GHz) will become available. TDRSS-H was launched last June, while the I and J versions are projected to be launched in 2002 and 2003, respectively. SpaceData is preparing to test a 466Mbps transmission rate, with a 622Mbps solution already on the drawing board.

While the speeds are mind-boggling, the solution is not for everyone, due to the nature of the technology. This is not an always-on solution; rather, its suited for an application where a large amount of data is collected and then periodically sent to another location. For a data transfer to take place, the TDRSS is aimed at the transmitting station, communication is established, and the transfer begins. When complete, the satellite then is aimed at a different location for another job. Call it "broadband-on-command."

The SeismicStar base station itself is a high-end setup. It includes dual Sun E450 servers configured with a StorageTek 9145 RAID array. Typical storage capacity is about 1 terabyte. In addition, there are dual ATM switches from Fore Systems and dual 155Mbps New Tec modems. A 2.4M Sea Tel marine tracking antenna enclosed in a radome completes the setup.