Meet Satellite Bandwidth and Frequency Demands Head-On

2021-03-31  |  4 min read 

Satellite links are rapidly moving from the radio frequency to millimeter wave frequencies. Higher frequencies and wider bandwidths result, presenting formidable design challenges for RF engineers. To meet this demand, engineers are taking a variety of approaches. For example, numerous developments tout the benefits of optical technologies. No matter the approach, the goal is to bridge the gap to higher transmission rates and frequencies. Success depends on also overcoming the technical challenges that arise in these new design, manufacturing, and deployment process.

According to Breaking Defense, adaptive optics will enable General Atomics’ Laser Interconnect and Networking Communication System-enabled satellites to quickly transmit more data to ground stations. The Space Development Agency (SDA) chose General Atomics and SA Photonics to develop laser-driven satellite communications technologies, which are set to launch later this year. The SA Photonics’ payloads are referred to as the Mandrake-2 satellites in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Blackjack initiative. Dave Pechner, chief technical officer at SA Photonics, told Breaking Defense that Optical Inter-Satellite Links are meant to demonstrate crosslink and space-to-ground link features in support of Blackjack and SDA’s Tranche 0 space defense layer.

Whether satellites evolve via optical or other technologies, they need to overcome challenges arising from the utilization of higher frequencies and wider bandwidths. For the engineers resolving such link challenges, they do not just have to assure communications performance. They need to know that their system will perform through all stages of the satellite life cycle. Once a satellite is deployed, you don’t get to call it back to fix it. This adds an added level of required assurance for both geostationary earth orbit (GEO) HTS satellite systems and lower earth orbit (LEO) constellations.

Predicting Performance

One of the big challenges when going higher in frequency is path loss. Wide bandwidth devices also are very hard to implement and test. More complex testing and characterization are therefore needed to ensure that both components and systems meet demanding space requirements. Engineers need a wider-bandwidth solution for signal generation and analysis, together with the high frequency coverage and speed needed for wideband high-throughput satellite communication. The characterization of components used in these satellite systems, like power amplifiers utilizing digital predistortion, requires even wider measurement bandwidths.

Generating and analyzing modulated signals for modern satellite communications brings additional challenges, as the signals are customized from proprietary modulation schemes. Our PathWave signal generation and X-Series measurement application software provide a flexible custom modulation software tool that reduces the time required for signal simulation and configuring the analyzer for demodulation analysis. These features help you achieve confidence in your measurement results, alleviating production overhead while increasing mission success.

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