Cubic Corporation's Victor Vega installs GATR Technologies’ inflatable antenna on rooftop of City Hall in Vieques, Puerto Rico. (Cubic Corporation)

Cubic Corporation’s GATR satellite antennas continue to provide communications links for residents and community leaders in Puerto Rico more than two months after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory and nearby Caribbean islands.

Employees of GATR Technologies, part of Cubic Corporation’s Mission Solutions Division, were in the U.S. Virgin Islands working to reestablish communications in the wake of Hurricane Irma, when Help.NGO’s Disaster Immediate Response Team and Cisco Systems’ Tactical Operations Team called for assistance in Puerto Rico.

Victor Vega, GATR Technologies director of emerging solutions, and his colleagues packed inflatable satellite antennas in suitcases and brought them to areas of Puerto Rico where hurricane-force winds and fallen trees had dismantled the terrestrial communications infrastructure. They installed inflatable GATR 2.4 meter antennas on rooftops, including two U.S. Army National Guard buildings that served as a distribution point for food and water.

As Puerto Rican communities began to rebuild their terrestrial infrastructure, Vega and his colleagues deflated the antennas, packed them up and moved to new areas.

GATR Technologies primarily sells its inflatable antennas to military customers including the U.S. Army, U.S. Marines and U.S. Air Force. Setting up communications in the wake of a disaster is similar to the challenge military expeditionary forces face in remote areas, Vega said.

To reestablish communications on the Puerto Rican island Vieques, for example, Vega and his colleagues traveled by helicopter with an inflatable 2.4-meter antenna. Within hours of installing the antenna on the roof of the Vieques City Hall, they had hard-wired connections to the mayor’s office and a nearby pharmacy. The antennas served as a Wi-Fi hotspot, provided cellphone service in a three-to-five-kilometer radius and reestablished local 911 service.

For Puerto Rico, GATR Technologies transmitted communications through global satellite fleet operator Intelsat’s Galaxy 17, Galaxy 18 and Intelsat-34 satellites in addition to Horizons 1, operated by Sky Perfect JSAT and Intelsat.

GATR Technologies does not charge any of the affected communities for its disaster response work.

Emergency response is a growing piece of the satellite communications market, according to Global Satellite Broadband Communication in Public Safety Market 2016-2020, a report by Technavio, a London-based market research firm. Technavio estimates that law enforcement, public health and emergency relief agencies will spend $560 million per year on satellite broadband by 2020, compared with $280 million in 2015. Emergency relief centers alone will spend $174.4 million for satellite communications, according to the 2016 report.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...