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Aerospace and Defense Channel / Test and Measurement Channel / Industry News

X-COM introduces industry’s smallest high-performance RF spectrum capture and playback system

April 29, 2013
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X-COM Systems LLC, a subsidiary of Bird Technologies Group, introduced the IQC5000A Series RF Spectrum Capture and Playback System, the smallest, lightest, best-performing system available for the capture and playback of RF and microwave signals over short or long time spans for mission-critical applications. The IQC5000A is an invaluable tool for use in defense applications such as signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), and covert surveillance, as well as commercial and defense spectrum management, and radar and wireless system testing.

Housed in an enclosure measuring only 12 x 3.5 x 10.5 in. and weighing less than 10 lb., the IQC5000A Series can record and play back one or two independent channels of RF signal activity up to 160 MHz in bandwidth captured at frequencies from HF through millimeter wavelengths. It operates from either 120/240 VAC or 12 VDC, making it equally suited for use in the field as well as bench top and laboratory environments. The IQC5000A can internally store from 500 Gbytes to 2 Tbytes of signal capture data in removable solid-state drives, which provides dual-channel storage between 22 min. and 1.7 days depending on capture bandwidth. When configured using external storage up to 16 Tbytes, it can store from 2.7 hr. to 14 days of signal activity. All times are doubled for single-channel operation.

The IQC5000A uses laboratory-grade signal analyzers from Agilent Technologies, Rohde & Schwarz, or Tektronix as its RF “front end”. This allows it to take advantage of the instruments’ high spurious-free dynamic range and DSP-based amplitude and phase error correction, so that the signal environment presented to the IQC5000A as I and Q signals is a precise representation of what actually occurred. The IQC5000A preserves this fidelity throughout recording, storage, and playback via external vector signal generators.

When the IQC5000A is configured as a single-channel recorder, its inputs for dual-channel record serve as a mirror port, allowing signals to be recorded and then streamed to analysis software or another part of a larger test system, for example. Even modest spectrum captured times produce very large amounts of data, and the IQC5000A uses the four lanes of PCIe for offload to a PC, laptop, or workstation, from 40 to 400 times faster than a LAN. Basic functions can be controlled locally from the front panel and via a PC, laptop, or workstation via Ethernet LAN. Firmware within the IQC5000A controls the entire system, from the vector signal analyzers at its input through the vector signal generator at its output.

The IQC5000A provides either a fixed one- or two-channel 2.4 GHz signal up to 100 MHz in bandwidth (which allows fixed-frequency playback without the need for a vector signal generator), or analog I and Q outputs to feed a vector signal generator whose output frequency can be anywhere within the range of the instrument, from HF through millimeter wavelengths.

The IQC5000A has a highly-stable internal 10-MHz reference and a precision external reference can be used as well. Two trigger inputs allow recordings to be started based on an external event and two marker inputs enable events to be time-stamped to the sample level. This is very useful for determining when a radar system changes its mode, for example. Signal capture files can also be geo-tagged using an IRIG receiver and GPS to which all clocks in a system using the IQC5000A can be synchronized.

The IQC5000A is complemented by X-COM’s Spectro-X signal analysis software and RF Editor signal generation software. Spectro-X allows up to four recorded RF and microwave spectrum files to be analyzed at the same time, and greatly speeds the user’s ability to identify signals of interest within files representing any length of time. RF Editor makes it easy to modify I&Q signals of any length or create entirely new ones. It is an invaluable tool for modifying and building signal waveforms in the time and frequency domains.

Price and Availability

The cost of the IQC5000A depends on its configuration and begins at $22,000 for a single-channel record-only system with 40 MHz of bandwidth and 500 Gbytes of storage (35 min. capture time). The price of a single-channel record and playback system with 110 MHz bandwidth and 1 Tbyte memory (30 min. capture time) is about $40,000, and a two-channel record and playback system with 160 MHz of bandwidth and 2 Tbytes or storage (30 min. capture time) is about $88,000. Delivery time is between 4 and 12 weeks depending on configuration. 

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