Recent advancements in satellite and launch technology have outpaced improvements in the ground segment. With non-geostationary orbit constellations growing at an astounding pace, disruptive technology is needed to deliver dramatic improvements in gateway performance.

To meet that challenge, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has contracted with ThinKom Solutions, Inc. to deliver a modular and scalable phased-array antenna solution to support ground segment operations.

The new ThinKom gateway array delivers a fully customizable solution, allowing for multi-beam, multi-orbit, multi-frequency services in a compact, low-power, resilient design. Built on ThinKom's field-proven, patented variable inclination continuous transverse stub (VICTS)  technology, it is a modular system enabled by digitally combining independently controlled antennas into compact, highly efficient arrays.

“The next generation of satellite networks requires a new paradigm in the ground segment,” said Bill Milroy, ThinKom chairman and chief technology officer. “ThinKom has a strong history of delivering high-performance antenna hardware to the U.S. government. We are excited to extend that relationship with the AFRL, taking our proven technology and scaling it up to deliver future-proof gateway connectivity to every orbit and every frequency.”

ThinKom’s software-defined, modular gateway is fully customizable, depending on the specific implementation requirements. This dynamic flexibility delivers improved performance in key use cases and was recently recognized by Via Satellite as the ‘Satellite Technology of the Year.’

Growing demand for satellite broadband and earth observation via low earth orbit and medium earth orbit constellations requires more beams to track the multitude of satellites overhead. ThinKom’s new modular approach can provide multiple independent beams, each connecting to a different satellite while managed by a proprietary digital beamformer.

The array repoints from a setting satellite to a rising one nearly instantly, matching a key advantage of electronically-steered antennas (ESAs). Alternatively, with the multiple antenna modules available, the ThinKom gateway array can deliver make-before-break handovers for truly uninterrupted communications.

ThinKom’s solution brings significant advantages to comparable parabolic or ESA options. The low-profile design enables “hide-in-plain-sight” installations, unobtrusively fitting in areas where a parabolic dish would be easily detected or otherwise unwelcome. The design also boasts near-zero wind loading, requires minimal real estate and allows multiple arrays to be closely collocated without risk of blockage.

At the same time, the ThinKom gateway array delivers the high spectral efficiency its VICTS technology is known for, with low prime power draw.

The modular structure also dramatically improves system resiliency and redundancy. An installation site could, for example, swap out one damaged aperture while all others in the array remain active. The relatively small size of each component allows those swaps to occur with just a couple of technicians, rather than requiring heavy-lift equipment.