WASHINGTON — Satellite ground terminal manufacturer ASC Signal in the past year has landed several orders from the U.S. Defense Department for modified versions of its commercial antennas, some of which have already been deployed domestically and abroad, the company’s top official said July 21.
The Pentagon’s increasing uptake of commercial-off-the-shelf ground equipment is a product of both growing budgetary pressures and the availability of more sophisticated commercial hardware, Keith Buckley, ASC Signal’s president and chief executive, said in an interview. This procurement approach can reduce costs by a factor of three or four compared with traditional government development programs, he said.
Plano, Texas-based ASC Signal started developing satellite ground stations more than 40 years ago as a part of Andrew Corp., which is now part of CommScope of Hickory, N.C. A private equity firm in February 2008 bought the group that is now ASC Signal, and the company returned to profitability in the last year, Buckley said.
ASC Signal’s products are best known in the broadcast television market. The firm has built 3.7-meter and 4.5-meter reflector dishes used by all of the U.S. network television broadcasters and their affiliates, as well as some broadcasters in Canada and Mexico. ASC Signal also has carved out a niche in the growing consumer satellite broadband market. The company built a network of 50 ground sites across the United States for the Spaceway network operated by Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md., and a similar network of terminals for the consumer broadband service offered by WildBlue, which is now owned by ViaSat of Carlsbad, Calif.
The Defense Department was particularly interested in the 8.1-meter Ka-band reflector dishes that ASC Signal deployed for Thaicom’s IPStar consumer broadband service in Asia, Buckley said. The military needed ground antennas that could send and receive Ka-band and X-band satellite signals for use with unmanned aerial vehicles, and ASC Signal’s commercial antenna could meet the military’s requirements with minimal modifications, he said.
ASC Signal earlier this year received a subcontract from another firm that Buckley would not identify and has now built and deployed a number of these Ka- and X-band antennas in the United States and around the world. He would not disclose the military customer or the contract value. The company is typically able to deliver antennas to commercial customers within 10 weeks of an order, and in some cases this will hold true for military orders as well, Buckley said.
“They’ve been able to take that commercial product and use it in a military application with very little need for any kind of analysis of whether this product is going to work,” he said.
The company also recently landed a Pentagon contract to deliver more than 100 of its 3.9-meter quad-band terminals that can send and receive C-, Ku-, Ka- and X-band satellite signals, he said. The two contracts represent a significant increase in the company’s military portfolio and are precipitating growth for the company, which now employs 150 people at 14 locations around the world, Buckley said.
ASC Signal’s recent successes are indicative of a larger trend of military purchases of commercial-off-the-shelf satellite ground equipment, he said.
“We are seeing it now,” he said. “You’re going to continue seeing it more as defense spending is looked at a little more closely and people are thinking through [acquisitions] more thoroughly.”