Emerging trends in satellite communications: High throughput satellites in LEO, MEO, and GEO

February 22, 2018 // By Tim Galla, Product Manager, Pasternack
The satellite industry has seen a major shift from the manufacturing of massive traditional, multi hundred-million dollar satellites (>5000 kg) to the generation of several-million dollar smallsats (<500 kg). In the past year (2016), the industry has seen 126 launches of which 55 (nearly 44%) were CubeSats. Moreover, the number of satellites launched has increased 53% in the past 5 years mostly due to smallsats (<1200kg) in the low earth orbit (LEO) [1].

In recent years there has been a significant downtrend in the number of GEO satellite orders dropping from between 20-25 on average annually to just 17 in 2016. With nearly half of the operational satellites dedicated to commercial (35%) or military (14%) communications and over 80% of satellite services for consumer applications (Satellite TV, Satellite Radio, and Satellite broadband), there is an emerging market for high-speed and low-latency satellite communications with Ka-band technology due to the available bandwidth. Current communications satellites generally have over a 15 year mission lifetime, in that time several scenarios can occur that require an adjustment in the operational requirements of the payload including changing business and political landscapes, new technologies and applications. Flexible payloads that can reconfigure its frequencies, coverage, and power allocation pose a solution to the rapidly evolving business, political, and technological environment.

The demand for more bandwidth will only increase with Multiple Radio Access Technology (Multi-RAT) planning for 5G that will rely on various heterogeneous networks for over 99% availability such as WiGig, 4G, 100G Ethernet, and satellite networks. High Throughput Satellites (HTS) with nearly 20 times the throughput of fixed service satellites (FSS), present desirable alternative for backhaul with a significant drop in cost-per-bit. This further precipitates the need for highly efficient transmitters with solid-state power amplifiers (SSPA), highly sensitive receivers, and reconfigurable phased array antennas for flexibility.

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