Small Satellites and the Ka-band
Cosylab and Paradigma Technologies are partners in the two-year “Radio Frequency Telecommunication Components for Small Satellites” (RFTCfSS) project. The latter aims to develop and produce a system consisting of a radio frequency transmitter, receiver, amplifier, and antenna. All components will support operation in the high-frequency Ka-band – at microwave frequencies in the range of 26.5 GHz to 40 GHz.
The project’s innovation is reflected in the utmost miniaturisation of the telecommunication system and low power requirements so that it will be suitable for use also with nanosats, such as CubeSats. These, with their 10-cm-cube dimensions and a mass maximum of 2 kg, are also gaining popularity in the commercial development of Space in LEO (Low Earth Orbit). Additionally, the RFTCfSS system will be equally helpful in GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit), where small satellites still face challenges regarding unfailing data transmissions at high data rates.
While systems for higher-frequency RF bands, such as the Ka-band, are established technology for large satellites, they are at the forefront of nanosat engineering, as they need upgraded power systems and specialised antennas, such as the high-gain reflector and the reflectarray. The latter consists of batches of foldable flat panels that reflect variable-phase fields. By including optimised protocols and advanced system architectures, such as Software Defined Radio (SDR), in CubeSat’s design, engineers can, in-orbit, reconfigure and reprogram transceivers and transponders operating in the higher frequency bands.
Market Potential of Satellite Telecommunications
In 2021, the global satellite communications (SATCOM) market was valued at 27.6 billion USD and is expected to reach 73.7 billion USD by 2027 while registering a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.5 per cent in the 2022-2027 period.
Satellite communications are used for various purposes in several industries, such as media broadcasting, broadband coverage extension, 5G communication systems deployment, integration and convergence of different wired and wireless technologies, Earth observation, defence and security, and global IoT (Internet of Things) device deployment.
The new radio frequency system developed under the “Radio Frequency Telecommunication Components for Small Satellites” project will be suitable for use in both LEO and geostationary Earth orbit and allow for the development of lower-cost, higher-data-speed, less polluting, and more flexible small satellites.
The electronics of the RFTCfSS project will be well protected against electromagnetic interference (EMI) and cosmic rays in LEO and also in GEO, where the interference is stronger. Namely, cosmic rays are high-energy particles that originate outside the solar system and can cause malfunctions in microelectronic circuits by ionisation. Levels of EMI and cosmic rays are generally lower in LEO due to the protective effects of the Earth’s magnetic field.