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Aerospace and Defense Channel

Military Satellite Trends and Outlook

November 9, 2012
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Strategy Analytics presented at the 2012 Defence, Security and Space Forum during European Microwave Week on military satellite trends and future outlook.

The use of space is increasing and becoming an essential component for infrastructure in communications, navigation and timing, agriculture and weather monitoring and disaster relief efforts. From a military perspective, space assets provide necessary resources to support troops including the provision of imagery, supporting communications, improving targeting and conversely reducing collateral damage. As a force multiplier, space assets can provide advanced capabilities and compensate for reductions in other conventional assets.

Pooling and Sharing Commercial and Military Assets

With space power and access to space systems essential to maintaining both domestic capabilities and international operations, space is regarded as a sovereign asset. Maintaining this asset is expensive and with constrained budgets over the next 3-5 years there will be a growing need to balance military capabilities and sovereignty while reducing costs.

“Dual use” will be one increasingly common approach with increased technical and operational cooperation of assets for both civilian and military usage. Benefits cited to a dual-use approach include the sharing of costs and risk to obtain best value as well as being able to take advantage of technological advances. From a military perspective, it also allows defence departments to gain access to greater system capacity.

This will also be coupled with the potential for bilateral, multilateral, European and transatlantic cooperation across both military and civilian satellite assets. In the area of satcoms, the NATO POST SATCOM 2000 is a good example of cooperation among three major NATO European Partners, namely the British, French and Italians, using their respective assets (Skynet 5, Syracuse 3 and Sicral 1B)  to provide capabilities for a 15-year period from January 2005 until the end of 2019.

US-led programs are also drawing in international partners. For example, the UK, Canada and the Netherlands are amongst the nations working with the US on the AEHF program. Partner nations are also looking to leverage the MUOS satellite program to be used for aerial, maritime platforms, ground vehicles, and dismounted soldier communications.

Small Satellites Increasing in Profile

Military satellite technical advances include a move to smaller platforms. Small satellites provide a range of benefits in terms of smaller mass, rapid deployment time, lower cost and utility. These advantages are being used by emerging nations as they enable faster penetration into space at lower cost. It is estimated that up to 62 nations have now launched satellites with an emphasis on smaller platforms. At the same time, traditional players are also starting to look at small satellites to leverage the flexibility and value-for-money offered to augment existing satellite systems.

Advances in small satellite technology have elevated the status of small satellites from just being “military relevant” to “laptop in space” platforms that can offer capabilities and advantages over traditional platforms in certain operational environs. As well as being able to showcase continued advancement in technologies, small satellites are also providing monetary benefits especially with budgetary constraints a growing primary consideration. From an operational perspective, small satellites present another layer of surveillance complementing the close-up view that can be provided with tactical UAVs with situational awareness.

Technology Trends for Military Satellites

There are a range of payload technologies used for applications such as imaging, communications and signals intelligence, and emerging technologies are helping to drive future platform development.

Typical military satellite communications have been focused on C-band and X-band, but these bands are not only expensive (especially the military specific X-band) but are also increasingly capacity constrained. With additional BLOS requirements coming from UAV platforms and a continuing growth in intelligence requirements, demand for bandwidth is continuing to increase, and this has resulted in military satellite communications making use of expensive solutions over military X-band as well as Ku-band.

Consequently, emerging military and civilian Ka-band technologies are also being actively considered. The use of Ka-band allows higher upload and download data rates and better spectral efficiencies while at the same time taking advantage of significantly less congestion in the spectrum band. Significantly, this also lowers bandwidth cost.

Technology enhancements at the component and system level include gallium arsenide (GaAs) -based triple junction solar cells, gallium nitride (GaN) -based power amplifiers and the use of phased array antennas. Additional areas being examined include the use of intersatellite link systems to provide near real-time capabilities for satellite control, monitoring satellite telemetry and returning data. The utilization of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components is also becoming more prevalent and on-board processing is one area using COTS-based technologies to increase data delivery speed, reduce the data rates and bandwidth rates as well as the associated power requirements.

Conclusions

Despite the fiscally challenging environment, the importance of satellites in the military domain is going to continue to increase. Space is a sovereign asset and a whole of government approach is needed to maintain both domestic capabilities and international operations. The fiscally constrained environment will result in more cooperation between nations on developing and sharing capabilities and Public Private Partnership (PPP) schemes will also see increasing use amongst other nations. The pooling of resources will be another feature in this fiscally challenging environment.

Technology and platform advances will serve as a catalyst for increased use of satellite platforms. Advances in technology have elevated the status of small satellites and the utilization of COTS components is becoming more prevalent especially as military satellite platforms share development with commercial ventures. Technology enhancements at the component and system level include GaAs-based triple junction solar cells, GaN-based power amplifiers and the use of phased array antennas. Ka-band will also form an increasingly staple part of the military satellite communications portfolio over the coming years.

This article was derived from the Strategy Analytics ADS service report, “Military Satellite Trends and Outlook” (http://sa-link.cc/ADS091012), which looks at the current status and future trends of military satellites based on presentations and discussions during the IQPC Military Satellites 2012 conference.

Recent Articles by Asif Anwar, Program Director, Strategy Analytics

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