Multibeam antenna to enhance communication passes preliminary Air Pressure checks

WASHINGTON – A prototype of a multibeam antenna has passed its first tests, taking one step closer to the US Air Force’s desire for secure connectivity through multiple satellite constellations.

In cooperation with the satellite operator SES Government Systems, Isotrop Systems is examining whether its new multibeam antenna can be connected to several satellites at the same time, even if they are in very different orbits, the developers said in an announcement on June 3 about the tests.

The Air Force does not want to rely on a single constellation in a single orbital area. As stated in the US Space Force’s Fighting SATCOM vision, the military wants to ensure that its systems can communicate via satellite even if a satellite – or even an entire constellation – is deactivated. To get there, the military needs antennas that can connect to multiple satellites in multiple orbits. For example, if a weapons system primarily uses a government satellite in geostationary orbit for communication and that satellite is taken offline, the antenna could ensure connectivity by switching to a commercial constellation in low earth or medium orbit.

In September 2020, SES and Isotrop announced that they had received a two-phase contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to evaluate the deployment of Isotrop’s prototype multibeam antenna over the medium-earth orbit constellation SES O3b. This contract is part of the Air Force’s Defense Experimentation Using Commercial Space Internet (DEUCSI) program, which aims to use commercial satellite broadband providers to connect their legacy systems.

SES declined to share the value of the antenna contract, but according to a federal database, the company was awarded a $ 1.7 million contract in July 2020 to work on a commercial internet project in space.

The first phase of assessments was carried out in two tests. The first on the Harwell Science, Technology and Innovation Campus in the UK showed that Isotrop’s multibeam terminal can connect to multiple satellites at the same time. A second test in Port St. Lucie, Florida showed that the system met the military requirements for acquiring and tracking SES ‘MEO satellites.

“Interoperability and multi-orbit capabilities are essential to achieve this vision, and these joint trials with the armed forces demonstrate how Isotrop Systems’ multi-beam antenna can successfully provide robust connectivity across our vast MEO and GEO fleets,” said SES Government Solutions President and CEO Pete Hoene.

The second evaluation phase tests whether the prototype can connect to satellites in multiple orbital layers and demonstrates a seamless transition between the connection to SES satellites in MEO and GEO. The trials should be completed by the end of the year.

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In general, new low-earth orbit satellite constellations, such as SpaceX’s OneWeb and Starlink, have opened up enhanced communications capabilities for the military with the promise of low-delay internet connections around the world. For example, the US Northern Command is experimenting with OneWeb for connectivity in the Arctic, where traditional satellite services are less available. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been testing whether it can use Starlink and other satellite constellations to transmit data to and from their aircraft.

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