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ORBIT Communications sees Ka-band rollout intertwined with existing technology

by Asif Anwar | Apr 05, 2013

ORBIT Communications was established in 1950, with an initial focus on radio communications and since then, morphing into a company focused on three primary areas, namely Satellite Communications, Tracking & Telemetry and Communications & Management Systems. The company has been through several shifts in strategy as the company places greater emphasis on improving the reliability and quality of its products as well as targeting emerging opportunities with new products and capabilities. While ORBIT does not purport to develop specific military solutions, the company has regularly provided products into the defense sector.

As we have noted in previous reports the move towards Ka-band is driving a lot of new development (see Strategy Analytics report, Military Satellite Trends and Outlook) in the area of satcoms, and ORBIT Communications is also reacting to this trend. However the company is seeing a number of challenges that, while not necessarily slowing down the adoption of Ka-band, is necessitating additional development work;

  • At a customer level, there is a perceived hesitancy in moving wholesale on to a new technology so ORBIT is seeing demand for multi-band solutions that incorporate existing capabilities alongside Ka-band to give customers the assurance of a known technology as back-up.
  • ORBIT is developing solutions that incorporate C/Ka, X/Ka and Ku/Ka band solutions in a single package. This in turn presents technical challenges as tracking becomes more complex.
  • Higher quality RF solutions are needed to counteract the impact of attenuation due to weather effects.
  • Attenuation effects are also impacted by use of Ka-band in conventional geostationary earth orbits (GEO) and ORBIT sees the industry looking more closely at low earth orbits (LEO), driving a move towards smaller ground units, especially as small satellite usage continues to gain ground.

ORBIT is also developing standalone Ka-band solutions, which brings its own challenges in terms of antennas becoming smaller. RF design changes include different packaging requirements for low noise blocks (LNBs) and the need for more expensive waveguides. Other factors impacting the move towards Ka-band include a more than doubling in weight (up to 13kg) for Ka-band block up-converters (BUCs), as compared to Ku-band BUCs (5 to 6kg). Finally there is a need to improve modem performance capabilities in re-acquiring signals during trade-off at Ka-band.

The company has an in-house antenna team that provides parabolic antennas, featuring an offset design. ORBIT has looked at phased arrays, but efficiencies have yet to improve to the point where ORBIT will shift away from conventional designs. For other system components such as receivers and RF components, ORBIT works with external partners but is increasingly exploring the possibility of leveraging those existing relationships to offer complete systems direct to customers. These systems would incorporate receivers, antennas, control boxes, optical cameras, as well as ORBIT’s own capabilities in the area of positioners and feeds.

Outside of satellite communications, ORBIT Communications is seeing earth observation as a growth area for the company’s Tracking & Telemetry business, with customers transitioning from L-band to X-band to enable higher resolutions at wider bandwidths. The company has been involved in a number of large projects, supplying antennas in the 10m range. The Communications & Management Systems business line includes the Orion system, which is designed for inbound, outbound and intercom airborne platform crew communication. Featuring increased computing power in a smaller form factor, the system offers the pilot the ability to receive multi-dimensional sound and other advancements through the Three-Dimension Audio Management System (3D-AMS). This technology allows sound to be heard from different virtual locations, allowing the pilot to discern multiple inputs more clearly as well as gauge the directionality of threats.

For more information on trends in the satellite communications sector see the Strategy Analytics report Military Satellite Trends and Outlook. This will also be the basis for a webinar later this month. You can register for the webinar directly on the Strategy Analytics website.

Don’t miss our regular column in Microwave Journal’s Military Microwaves.

See Defence iQ for more analysis on the defense industry, related news and events.

Asif

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