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Affordable SATCOM Flat Panel Arrays

Satellite communications (SATCOM) systems have long been an invaluable military asset for establishing information links at critical times and locations. Ironically, once the satellite that relays signals between Earth and space has been launched, system performance becomes highly dependent on the Earth-station antenna, which is often the large “dish” shaped antenna associated with these systems. There is a more efficient, cost-effective approach to the antenna, using phased-array technology that has long been a basis for radar systems.

Phased-array technology is constantly evolving, as evidenced by the efforts of innovative beamforming IC maker Anokiwave and military/aerospace systems company Ball Aerospace. By working together, the companies have developed reliable, affordable flat-panel phased-array antennas for SATCOM ground stations on land, sea, and in the air. The antennas are based on readily available silicon (Si) CMOS beamforming ICs from Anokiwave. The ICs, which are available at K-, Ka-, and Ku-band frequencies, feature wide dynamic range with low noise figures in support of transmit and receive functions in flat-panel phased-array antennas that are much smaller lighter than traditional satcom antennas. The system-level approach developed by Ball Aerospace is based on creating modular building blocks that can be interconnected to form different array sizes as needed, quickly and reliably. This article will explore the modular antenna approach as well as how to select different beamformer ICs for various satcom applications.

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