Filtronic, a designer and manufacturer of RF and Microwave components for demanding terrestrial applications, is offering commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products for LEO satellite applications. Filtronic products transmit, receive, condition and manage radio signals at RF, microwave and mmWave frequencies. These are widely deployed in mission-critical environments for the telecommunications, defence, aerospace and emergency services sectors, as well as more recently in high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS).
As increasing numbers of satellites are launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to expand data connectivity around the world, there is an urgent need to improve the commercial viability of small satellite manufacture and deployment.
Recently, companies with big ambitions to connect the unconnected have embarked on large-scale programs of LEO satellite launches to create massive constellations. However, there are no standard specification for the transmitters, receivers, amplifiers and other components employed within LEO satellite payloads. These components need to withstand solar radiation, temperature extremes and other rigours of space orbit whilst operating effectively and reliably for several years.
To make a sustainable business case for LEO satellite constellation deployment, the industry needs to find commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components that meet all the necessary quality and performance requirements, but which can be tested, and volume manufactured at an affordable cost.
Filtronic’s exhaustively tested sub-systems offer the proven reliability and performance needed for LEO applications. The compound semiconductor (core MMIC line-up) technology they use is inherently benign to radiation, making it compatible with space deployment. Other components, such as power supplies and micro-controllers, do feature silicon, which is susceptible to radiation. However, these components can be replaced with readily available radiation-tolerant alternatives, tested and up-screened to achieve compatibility with LEO applications and system quality goals.
Crucially, to make the concept of COTS products a realistic option for LEO satellite applications, the components need to be efficiently volume manufactured – bringing the cost per unit down to commercially acceptable levels.
Continued investments from Filtronic in state-of-the-art precision manufacturing facilities and automated processes enables them to produce microelectronic sub-systems efficiently and competitively at scale. This allows filtronic to offer sustained cost reductions for clients requiring complex, high-mix sub-systems manufactured to extremely high reliability and quality levels. These systems have reliability comparable to military modules and commercial mm-wave radios destined for many years of service in harsh environments.
Filtronic have extensive experience in designing and manufacturing modules at high mmWave frequencies, including Q to E-band. This is a critical requirement for upcoming LEO satellites as the demand for data will increase exponentially – requiring a corresponding increase in bandwidth to boost capacity. Using variants of their transceiver modules for LEO applications will equip satellites and ground-based gateways with the capacity to meet rapidly growing demand for data as more people worldwide are brought online.
Currently, LEO satellites employ Ku and Ka band payloads (~12-30 GHz). Second generation mega-constellations will push up to Q and V bands (33-60GHz) where more bandwidth is available. To support these higher frequency bands, gateway links at E-band (71-76GHz / 81-86GHz) are being considered, because E-band provides the wide bandwidth pipe needed to support the increase in user terminal capacity. Furthermore, E-band has been identified as a candidate technology for inter-satellite links to enable mesh networking within constellations.
Click here to learn more about space qualification of electronic components.