A multiplexer/demultiplexer system has been developed to enable the transmission, over a single channel, of four data streams generated by a variety of sources at different (including variable) bit rates. In the original intended application, replicas of this multiplexer/demultiplexer system would be incorporated into the spacecraft-to-ground communication systems of the space shuttles. The multiplexer of each system would be installed in the spacecraft, where it would acquire and process data from such sources as commercial digital camcorders, video tape recorders, and the spacecraft telemetry system. The demultiplexer of each system would be installed in a ground station. Purely terrestrial systems of similar design could be attractive for use in situations in which there are requirements to transmit multiple streams of high-quality video data and possibly other data over single channels.

This Data Multiplexer combines four input streams (three fiber-optic TAXI interface channels and one IEEE 1394 channel) into a single output stream.

The figure is a block diagram of the multiplexer as configured to process data received via three fiber-optic channels like those of the International Space Station and one electrical-cable channel that conforms to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) 1394 standard. (This standard consists of specifications of a high-speed serial data interface, the physical layer of which includes a cable known in the art as "FireWire." An IEEE 1394 interface can also transfer power between the components to which it is connected.) The fiber-optic channels carry packet and/or bit-stream signals that conform to the standards of the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS). The IEEE 1394 interface accepts an isochronous signal like that from a digital camcorder or a video tape recorder.

The processing of the four input data streams to combine them into one output stream is governed by a statistical multiplexing algorithm that features a flow-control capability and makes it possible to utilize the transmission channel with nearly 100-percent efficiency. This algorithm allocates the available bandwidth of the transmission channel to the data streams according to a combination of data rates and preassigned priorities. Incoming data streams that demand too much bandwidth are blocked. Bandwidth not needed for a transmission of a given data stream is allocated to other streams as available. Priority is given to the IEEE 1394 stream.

In addition to the four incoming data streams, the multiplexer transmits data on the status of the system. An operator can monitor and control the multiplexer via displays and controls on the multiplexer housing. The output of the multiplexer is connected via a coaxial cable with an impedance of 50 Ω to an interface circuit compatible with the space-shuttle high-speed digital downlink, which operates at a rate of 48 Mb/s.

This work was done by S. Douglas Holland, Glen F. Steele, Denise M. Romero, and Robert David Koudelka of Johnson Space Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Electronics/Computers category.

This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to the Patent Counsel, Johnson Space Center, (281) 483-0837. Refer to MSC-23303.