Aiding the testing of satellite communications

24th April 2017
Joe Bush

The launch of the Drone Payload Satellite Simulator, from RF and microwave components manufacturer AtlanTecRF, provides a transmit (Tx) to receive (Rx) loop-back in testing mostly compact and mobile satellite communications systems in-situ and without the need for connection via cables.

AtlanTecRF standard LTT microwave circuits have been configured for installation, along with circularly polarised antennas at Ka band and a rechargeable battery power pack into a specially designed and weather-proof housing capable of being carried by a moderately sized hovering drone. The drone is then flown into the line of sight of the satcom system antenna providing the loop-back and facilitating system and antenna testing and calibration without the need to go live on the satellite.

Test methods using other satellite simulator models can involve mounting the simulator test instrument on a mast or ‘cherry picker’ to intercept the satcom system line of sight but such an arrangement can give rise to test site clutter and inconvenience in some circumstances. The Drone Payload avoids this scenario and also has the advantage of being able to provide the loop-back from heights above the ground which would be simply impractical by other methods.

With a fixed local oscillator frequency and pre-adjusted conversion gain, the drone-bourne satellite simulator carries out a dedicated and defined task for Ka band antenna testing, such as might be found in aircraft-based communication sets or other difficult to access systems.

The CEO of AtlanTecRF, Geoff Burling, speaking from the company’s research and development centre in Braintree, UK, said: “At AtlanTecRF we offer the system test engineer the advantages of all the very latest technologies and therefore continue our policy of enhancing both ease of use and effectiveness in our satcom RF test products. It is only natural therefore that we enable the use of hovering drones to deliver this level of convenience to the test engineer.”

While the launch product is designed specifically for the Ka band 30GHz uplink and 20GHz downlink markets, similar drone-capable payloads are possible for Ku band and DBS bands. The internal rechargeable battery lasts at full test power for up to two hours which is usually adequate to carry out a system alignment test and matches the typical drone battery endurance.

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