Satellite Markets Enjoy An Uptick

July 16, 2010
Both defense and commercial satellite programs are garnering increased funding, creating opportunities for many microwave products and components.

The term "satellite" conjures many images ranging from television service to cutting-edge military applications like the "mystery" satellites that provide surveillance over troubled areas. With so many automobile drivers equipped with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems, however, satellite applications have become rather commonplace. Yet that does not mean they have lost their innovative edge. Emerging needs continue to open new markets and drive novel applications for RF and microwave satellite technology in the commercial, defense, and space arenas. In doing so, they are providing systems integrators with increased opportunities while giving component makers a chance to support those products.

Defense has been a steady driver of satellite innovation. In late 2001, for example, the US Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Northrop Grumman Space Technology a $2.698-billion contract to begin the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) program. In May, Lockheed Martin delivered the first satellite in the AEHF program to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., where it is being prepared for a July 30 liftoff aboard an Atlas V launch vehicle. The AEHF system is the successor to the five-satellite Milstar constellation and will provide significantly improved global, highly secure, protected, survivable communications for all warfighters serving US national security. The governments of Canada, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom participate in the AEHF program as international partners and will have access to the communications capability of AEHF.

The SDD phase will deploy two AEHF satellites as well as the AEHF mission-control segment, which will support both Milstar and AEHF. Lockheed Martin is developing the ground segment, satellite bus provider, space vehicle integrator, and overall systems integrator and prime contractor. Northrop Grumman provides the payload and associated components (digital processor and RF equipment).

The Advanced EHF Program is the follow-on to the DoD's Milstar highly secure communication satellite program, which currently has a foursatellite operational constellation. As envisioned by the Pentagon, the AEHF constellation will consist of four crosslinked satellites providing coverage of the Earth from 65 deg. north latitude to 65 deg. south. These satellites will deliver more data-throughput capability and coverage flexibility to regional and global military operations than ever before. A fifth satellite could be used as a spare or launched to provide additional capability to the envisioned constellation.

Compared to the Milstar II communications satellites, the AEHF satellites will provide 10X greater total capacity while offering channel data rates that are 6X higher (Fig. 1). The higher data rates permit transmission of tactical military communications, such as real-time video, battlefield maps, and targeting data. To accomplish this, Advanced EHF adds new higher-data-rate modes to the low- and medium-data-rate modes of Milstar II satellites. The higher-data-rate modes will provide data rates to 8.2 Mb/s for future AEHF Army terminals. Each Advanced EHF satellite employs more than 50 communications channels via multiple, simultaneous downlinks. For global communications, the AEHF system uses inter-satellite crosslinks, eliminating the need to route messages via terrestrial systems.

An endeavor by the US Navy, called the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), also leverages Lockheed Martin's expertise. The company is leading a team that includes General Dynamics C4 Systems and Boeing Defense, Space and Security. MUOS, which is a nextgeneration narrowband tactical satellite communications system, will provide the warfighter with the latest mobile technology. Examples include simultaneous voice, video, and data as well as improved service to legacy users of the current Ultra High Frequency Follow-On (UFO) system. Recently, the first MUOS satellite completed passive-intermodulation (PIM), electromagnetic-interference (EMI), and electromagnetic-compatibility (EMC) testing as well as the spacecraft-level baseline integrated system test at Lockheed Martin facilities in Sunnyvale, CA. The first MUOS satellite, along with the associated ground system, is scheduled for on-orbit hand-over to the Navy in 2011.

Among other defense-sponsored satellite projects is the GPS IIIB satellite series, which falls under the US Air Force's next-generation GPS III Space Segment program. Lockheed Martin is working under a $3 billion Development and Production contract to produce up to 12 GPS IIIA satellites with first launch projected for 2014. The contract includes a Capability Insertion Program (CIP) designed to mature technologies and perform rigorous systems engineering for the future IIIB and IIIC increments planned for follow-on procurements.

The Lockheed Martin-led team, which includes ITT and General Dynamics, is progressing in the GPS IIIA Critical Design Review (CDR) phase of the program. It has completed more than 80 percent of the planned CDRs and is well on its path to the overall space vehicle CDR in Augusttwo months ahead of the planned schedule. Successful completion of the space vehicle CDR will allow the team to enter the production phase of the program.

The GPS IIIA satellites promise to deliver significant improvements over current GPS space vehicles, including a new international civil signal (L1C) and increased M-Code anti-jam power with full Earth coverage for military users. For its part, GPS IIIB will enable a cross-linked command and control architecture, allowing these GPS III vehicles to be updated from a single ground station instead of waiting for each satellite to orbit in view of a ground antenna. GPS IIIC will include a high-powered spot beam to deliver greater M-Code power for increased resistance to hostile jamming.

In addition to improving the satellite technologies themselves, it was recently discovered that military advantages can be gained by leveraging space sensors. Raytheon Co.'s hyperspectral imaging sensor, known as Advanced Responsive Tactically Effective Military Imaging Spectrometer (ARTEMIS), successfully completed its oneyear experimental mission aboard the Air Force Research Laboratory's Tactical Satellite-3. Based on the success of that mission, Raytheon has been notified that the Air Force Space Command will take control of TacSat-3 with the intent to use ARTEMIS in an operational capacity.

Unlike visible imagers, hyperspectral sensors capture light across a wide swath of the EM spectrum, providing heightened spectral detail. That spectral information produces a distinct "signature," which can be compared against the spectral signatures of known objects to rapidly identify potential areas of interest. The ARTEMIS hyperspectral imager combines spectral information with geo-location coordinates in an easy-to-read map. This information is then sent directly to troops on the ground in near real time. Raytheon is discussing opportunities to rapidly deploy additional hyperspectral space sensors.

Some have speculated that defense budgets could suffer due to global economic woes and the public's frustration with the decade-plus range that is said to be required to stabilize the Middle East. Yet according to Euroconsult, government procurement of commercial satellite Earth-observation (EO) data will reach $2.6 billion by 2019up from only $735 million in 2009. The firm's report, titled "Earth Observation: Defense and Security, World Prospects to 2019," analyzes the mechanisms that defense and security agencies will use to satisfy their image-intelligence (IMINT) requirements over the coming decade. It emphasizes that governments must reconcile their increasingly sophisticated IMINT needs with growing budget constraints. They are therefore exploring cost-effective combinations of solutions, such as the development of dual-use systems, increasing government cooperation to access third-party systems, and purchasing commercial data.

This increasing demand is being driven by the growing prevalence of commercial high-resolution optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems, improved image accuracy, and reduced data-delivery times. Commercial data is now suitable for defense intelligence needs, which was not the case in the past. Despite these less expensive alternatives, however, spending for government-owned EO satellites is also expected to see a healthy increase. From 2000-2009, governments in nine nations launched 57 satellites specifically developed for defense applications, representing overall revenues of $12.5 billion for the satellite manufacturing industry worldwide. Over the coming decade, Euroconsult expects manufacturing revenues to grow to $18.3 billion with a marked increase in the number of satellites and average revenue per satellite increasing slightly.

Whether or not the defense segment leverages commercial satellite innovations, the consumer market is certainly driving its own satellite developments. Consumers are now enjoying a vast array of services ranging from satellite television service to GPS navigation systems in their cars. For example, In-Stat recently reported that global demand for digital set-top boxes hit a new high last year with set-top-box shipments increasing by 11 percent. Satellite set-top boxesthe largest market segmentaccounted for 48 percent of 2009 global set-topbox unit shipments. Plus, handheld devices like smart phones will offer an increasing array of location-based services (LBSs) going forward. Such services could, for example, alert users to a restaurant's special menu items as they were walking in its vicinity down a city street. Satellite opportunities in the mobile-broadband market also will continue to expand, thanks to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) Spectrum Task Force. It just announced that it will bring 90 MHz of mobile satellite spectrum to market for wireless broadband services.

Iridium Communications, Inc. has long delivered voice and data services for areas that are not served by terrestrial communication networks. Such services are enabled by the firm's constellation of low-earthorbiting (LE) cross-linked satellites. Last month, the company revealed its plans to fund, build, and deploy its next-generation satellite constellation, Iridium NEXT. Iridium has contracted Thales Alenia Space, a joint company between Thales (67 percent) and Finmeccanica (33 percent), for the design and construction of satellites for the Iridium NEXT constellation. This fixed-price contract provides for the construction of 72 operational satellites and in-orbit spares, which were originally planned, in addition to nine ground spares, which provide greater risk mitigation with respect to the new constellation. As a result of the expanded scope of the project, the total cost of Iridium NEXTincluding all costs associated with the development, manufacture, and launch of the constellationis now anticipated to be approximately $2.9 billion. The first satellites are expected to be launched during the first quarter of 2015.

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As an example of the capabilities provided by Iridium, the firm's latest satellite phone, the Iridium 9555, can directly interface with computers running on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 in addition to Mac version 10.4 or later. As a result, it is easier for users to send and receive e-mails as well as exchange computer files through the satellite phone. The Iridium 9555 connects to a laptop with a standard mini- Universal Serial Bus (mini-USB) cable. The phone also offers enhanced short-message-service (SMS) text capabilities, allowing users to send and receive long SMS texts that are up to 1000 characters long.

In addition to customers in the private sector, Iridium has long provided services to the US Department of Defense and other US and international government agencies. It is now hoping to increase opportunities on the commercial side with the Iridium 9602 data transceiver. Cambridge Consultants in coordination with Iridium's engineering teamled the design process of the Iridium 9602 short-burst-data (SBD) transceiver. The Iridium 9602 promises to provide greater flexibility for companies looking to integrate satellite communications into a diverse range of remote machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, whether they are fleet management and monitoring, personnel tracking, remote sensor telemetry, or enterprise logistics.

The Iridium 9602 is a single-board unit designed as a black-box transceiver module with all device interfaces controlled by a single multi-pin interface connector in addition to the antenna connector. The 50-Ohm device covers 1616 to 1626.5 MHz. According to Cambridge Consultants, the Iridium 9602 utilizes two customized, application- specific integrated circuits (ASICs). In doing so, it reduces the number of parts from 769 in the previous device to 384. All told, the use of the two ASICs makes the Iridium 9602 approximately 70 percent smaller and 74 percent lighter than its predecessor. More than 90 companies are already working on plans to embed the new model into their next-generation products.

Asset tracking and monitoring has turned into a huge opportunity for satellite products and services with Iridium just one of many companies targeting this market. By integrating u-blox's UBX-G5010 into its Osprey Personal Tracker, for example, EMS Global Tracking is vowing to provide dependable global positioning and two-way SATCOM to track individuals, assets, and fleets around the world. The UBX-G5010 provides a fine example of the opportunities for microwave companies in such systems. The UBX-G5010 chip requires a minimum of 19 high-frequency components. It includes an integrated low-dropout regulator (LDO) and low-noise amplifier (LNA) as well as crystal resonators and temperature-controlled crystal oscillators (TCXOs). Thanks to an advanced jamming suppression mechanism and innovative RF architecture, the UBX-G5010 vows to ensure maximum GPS and GALILEO performance even in hostile environments and areas with weak signal coverage.

The oil and gas sector in particular is experiencing a high growth rate in terms of SATCOM services. Orbit Technologies, for example, just announced that it will supply Telespazio with stabilized marine satellite-communications (SATCOM) systems to be installed on board oil and gas industry installations worldwide. Oil and gas companies increasingly depend on uninterrupted broadband communication for their landbased centers, as the financial cost of interrupted communications can be substantial. The marine SATCOM systems consist of the 1.15-m Ku-band Orsat-G systems and the 2.4-m AL-7108 C-band systems (Fig. 2). They promise to deliver high-speed broadband data transmission/reception capability even in rough seas.

These programs and engineering efforts obviously involve some of the biggest names in aerospace and defense. Whether targeted at the defense or commercial segments, however, all of these satellite developments have one thing in mind: They cannot fail. In military applications, failure can result in loss of life. Commercial applications can have lesser implications. Yet the consumer market is fickle in that unsatisfied consumers will show their disdain for a product that does not live up to its promises. To these ends, more and more attention is being given to the issue of satellite interference (see sidebar, "Raise Awareness Of Satellite Interference").

For the microwave companies that sell parts into satellites, interference is a topic that will increasingly be investigated during various design phases. In fact, the interference problem should create even more opportunities in this vast market. In a time when markets are unpredictable and growth is uncertain, a strong marketwith military-funded investmentsis certainly a welcome prospect.

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