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7 of the most important developments in satellite technology

International Space Station Communication System
In the last 60 years of their use, satellites have become some of the most valuable pieces of advanced technology in the world. These unmanned craft have evolved a lot over this span of time - a process of positive change that continues into the 21st century. 

Let's take a look at seven of the most notable developments and advances that the field of satellite technology has seen in the past few years. How might each one might affect the future?

1. Positive growth throughout the industry 

According to the Satellite Industry Association, the satellite technology sector as a whole showed positive growth of late. In 2016, global revenues rose 2 percent to reach $260.5 billion. The U.S. alone holds a 44 percent market share in global satellite sector revenues ($110.3 billion).

Expansion was fueled largely by ground equipment and launch services, which respectively rose 7 percent and 2 percent in 2016. Satellite services also grew by 0.2 percent. Manufacturing took a 13 percent dive, but this decline wasn't enough to bring down overall revenue. 

2. LEO losing ground as GEO gets better

Geostationary satellites, also known as GEOs, help uphold many of the world's most vital communications systems, for both commercial and defense purposes. In the late 1990s, many thought that satellites in low earth orbit (LEOs) could provide greater efficiency and lower costs while serving the same purposes. LEO systems such as Iridium and Globalstar attracted $10 billion in investments.

Yet, according to Satellite Today, neither benefit came to be. Plans for LEO projects by SpaceX and OneWeb appear similarly poised to experience difficulties. After all, LEO satellites require expensive terminals. On the other hand, there have been major advances in signal capacity among GEOs, which can now receive and transmit at hundreds of gigabits per second. Modern GEO satellites also run for longer and at greater strength than ever before. They will likely play a major role in providing broadband internet to developing economies whose residents have lower median incomes.

3. Satellites headed toward the consumer marketplace 

CubeSats - satellites about 4 inches around, named for their shape - have existed since 2000, but they started experiencing more attention around 2016. Arizona State University researchers Elizabeth Garbee and Andrew Maynard, writing in The Conversation, said that the tiny LEO devices could potentially spread to the consumer market. Their low cost of operation and flexibility makes them highly viable for scientific explorations, according to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Perhaps one of the biggest potential problems that the spread of this technology could bring is space debris. Currently there are only about 130 CubeSat devices in orbit. But as they grow in popularity and use, especially if they make it to the average consumer, this number will no doubt grow. NAS study authors acknowledged this, as well as concerns regarding security and the possibility of espionage. Regardless, thanks to devices like CubeSats, satellite technology will be, at some point, for better or worse, more widely available and accessible.

4. Greater mobile accessibility 

2016 also saw the announcement of the Ka-band Systems for Mobile Satellite Communications (KASYMOSA) initiative. Devised by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Erlangen, Germany, as well as various partner organizations, KASYMOSA aims to make satellite technologies more broadly usable in the mobile space. This required advances in antenna design, new placement strategies and a drastic increase in bits-per-second capabilities, but engineers believe that consumer-tier satellite phone calls, improved emergency response efforts in crisis situations and other radical functions are all possible through further Ka-band development. 

microwave technology

5. Phased array antennas enter the broadband communications space


While phased array transmissions have existed in various forms since the 1950s, they weren't anywhere near the consumer market until fairly recently. Satellite Today noted that there has been a major push among some in the industry to deploy satellite antennas using this technology in recent years, to bring broadband capabilities to vehicles on both land and sea, and also improve global internet access. However, others in the sector believed that the cost of large-scale phased array development will outweigh its potential benefits. Manufacturers were and are confident that the products' quality will mitigate such concerns, but it's still too early to tell which side wins that particular argument.

6. Built-in digital payload verification 

Modern satellites often carry digital payloads with the components necessary to send and receive information at ranges that were unthinkable as little as 10 years ago, regardless of environmental impedance like canopy forests or mountains. Boeing upped the ante on payload technology in 2017 when it developed testing systems built directly into the bodies of satellites. This advancement would eliminate the need for prelaunch testing and thus save considerable time and money. The vessels containing this feature, 03b mPOWER satellites, were announced in September 2017, with seven planned to be constructed at first for use with SES's communications platform.

7. The STRS program

Though in its early stages of development as of mid-2018, NASA's Space Telecommunications Radio System project promises to revolutionize communications between ground and space, for agency missions as well as interstellar dispatches. STRS aims to be an open framework, allowing the sharing of code, documentation and data across multiple platforms so that NASA can use systems from different vendors as needed.

AMETEK's role in the industry

Beneath all of these satellites and the systems that power them are components developed by AMETEK ECP. No matter the specific needs of a particular satellite, AMETEK provides uniquely fabricated solder preforms, bonding wire and optoelectronic modulator components to help guarantee peak performance at the most pivotal moments. Our products ensure the seamless transmission of data for numerous commercial, industrial and government applications. 


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