In recent years, the need for satellite communications (SATCOM) systems in the aerospace and defense industry has grown significantly. The demand for high bandwidth data access on commercial aircraft and the increasing data requirements for military operations have driven the development of new technologies and solutions.
One of the key trends in SATCOM is the shift towards higher data rates. The demand for more efficient data and video transfer has led to the increase of soldier-based SATCOM links from kilobits per second (kbps) to megabits per second (Mbps) data rates. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also require high bandwidth data links to support military operations worldwide. Additionally, there is a growing demand for high-speed data access on commercial aircraft, both for business jets and major airliners.
Traditionally, SATCOM systems have relied on geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) satellites. These satellites are positioned at a high altitude and stay fixed relative to the Earth’s surface, providing coverage over a large area. However, they have limitations such as high latency, significant loss in signal transmission, and high development costs.
To address these challenges, alternatives and complementing systems to GEO satellites have been proposed. Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being considered as possible solutions. These systems offer lower orbits, mitigating the challenges associated with GEO satellites, but at the expense of reach.
In the defense sector, effective communications and data links are crucial for global operations. To meet the demands of soldiers in challenging environments, SATCOM radios need to be portable and operate in any physical environment. The Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) is one solution that provides increased data rates and signal bandwidths.
In the commercial aviation industry, passengers are increasingly demanding internet connectivity during flights. Current systems rely on ground-based installations for data links, but for full transcontinental coverage, SATCOM is necessary. The required bandwidths for data links will require operating frequencies in the Ku-band or Ka-band, which present design challenges and the need to support legacy data links.
To meet the growing demand for data in aerospace and defense, solutions such as Inmarsat’s GEO satellites with Ka-band data links are being developed. However, these solutions introduce new challenges for design engineers, such as increased system SWaP.
Overall, satellite communications are playing a critical role in meeting the increasing demand for data in the aerospace and defense industry. With advancements in technology and the development of tailored solutions, SATCOM systems are becoming more efficient and capable of meeting the needs of military operations and commercial aviation.