Inflection point coming for antenna equation
PASADENA, Calif. — As the cost of phased array antennas drops, the technology becomes increasing attractive to commercial customers like Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), the Norwegian company that operates 179 antennas at 22 different sites around the world.
KSAT is watching the market very carefully and “actively seeking a partner for phased array technologies,” Katherine Monson, KSAT USA head, said May 21 at the Space Tech Expo here.
Electronically steered antennas cost more than traditional parabolic dishes but the economic equation is complicated because a single electronically steered antenna can provide multiple communications links simultaneously. As a result, one electronically steered antenna can replace multiple dishes at a particular ground site.
Ball Aerospace, a longtime producer of phased array antennas for government customers, analyzed the costs and determined that if a phased array antenna can replace fewer than ten dish antennas, the phased array is more cost effective. “It becomes very compelling from a business case,” said Pete Moosbrugger, Ball Aerospace chief technologist of phased array and radio frequency technology.
At some point, the economics will favor phased array antennas, Monson said. “It’s inevitable. KSAT needs to be ready ahead of that demand,” she added.
Still KSAT is cautious about adopting new technology because the company promises customers an extremely high degree of reliability. “The challenge that we have at KSAT is how to operationalize those technologies in a way that we can guarantee mission success,” Monson said.
Ball produces phased array antennas with printed circuit boards, which are “inherently low cost and they scale with volume,” Moosbrugger said.
As demand for the technology grows thanks to 5G and large satellite constellations, the cost per antenna continues to fall, Moosbrugger said. “All the low-Earth orbit constellation user terminals have to have phased arrays,” creating demand for hundreds of thousands, he added.
In January, Ball demonstrated its latest antenna with Telesat’s low Earth orbit broadband satellites. Ball has conducted other commercial demonstrations “that are not in the news, that we can’t talk about,” Moosbrugger said.