Industry Debates ESA Standardization


Industry Debates ESA Standardization

New Models - including Digital Twin – Explored in SIG Roundtable

By Anne Wainscott-Sargent

The Satcoms Innovation Group (SIG) and Global Satellite Operators Association (GSOA) convened a roundtable on day one of SATELLITE 2024 to discuss the future of Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs) and the need for operators and component manufacturers to come together to develop a common framework on FPA requirements and performance.

Unlike parabolic antennas, ESAs’ antenna patterns change with the scan angle, which generates the need to measure multiple patterns, making it costly and complex to validate performance, says Colin Robinson, chair of the GSOA Technology Working Group.

Robinson explained that the GSOA working group is striving to develop a system “that makes the best sense, both from a manufacturing standpoint so you don’t drive up costs, but also from a regulator standpoint to make sure we don’t cause interference.”

When it comes to standardization, “it gets very complex,” agreed Angela Wheeler, director of Global Network Operations for Intelsat, who noted that for traditional capacity, users need antennas that perform very close to parabolics, while high-throughput satellites or even LEO and MEO orbits requires very different things.
It’s a topic gaining traction with the recent formation of a DIFI Consortium ESA Working Group and this week’s announcement of the Waveform Architecture for Virtualized Ecosystems (WAVE) Consortium, focused on bringing the vision of a virtualized and agile SATCOM ecosystem to fruition.

Mark Steel, EVP, Product and Services for Reticulate Micro, a provider of video encoding and SATCOM terminal management in bandwidth-challenged and multi-orbit environments, said despite promises made in 2010 for ESAs to be designed to meet specifications of size, weight, power and cost, “no one has really cracked all those performance features. If you try to license an ESA today, it’s very complex because the FCC doesn’t have a very clear path on ESAs to get them regulated or licensed.”

Steel was part of GVF’s Satellite Operator’s Minimum Antenna Performance Requirements (SOMAP) that successfully devised minimum standards on parabolic antennas. He noted that while the process took six years and at times was frustrating, it could be a model for ESA standardization efforts.

Justin Miles, senior engineer for SES, underscored the importance of standards when operating a global constellation, explaining, “I like knowing if I have an Ajacent Satellite Interference (ASI) event happening with Intelsat or Eutelsat, that those antennas are to the same standards that we’re following. A lack of standards means a lack of trust; a lack of ability to know that they’re playing by the same rules.”

Steel said in evaluating multiple phased arrays in the last six months, he has noted that each ESA has different quirks or issues and current efforts to getting FCC approval often involve masking issues in how performance data is presented, which gets in the way of having a level playing field.

One thing everyone agreed on: The lack of progress towards an ESA standard endangers the future of the satellite industry’s multi-orbit ambitions since those networks depend on timely approvals of electronically steerable antennas that can track satellites across orbits without causing interference.

Joakim Espeland, co-founder and CEO of QuadSAT, a Danish company developing new tools and techniques for testing and calibrating satellite antennas, said the answer isn’t to do more traditional tests but to innovate the testing environment.

“What you are speaking about in the simulation software is nothing less than a digital twin for a flat panel antenna,” said Andreas Voigt, senior engineer, Service Operations for Eutelsat Group, an integrated LEO-GEO operator since merging with OneWeb in 2023.

Voigt added, “If we can actually standardize it, trust it, work with it and change it accordingly to what the antenna on the ground actually does and test it out, testing time is reduced, cost is reduced.”

A digital twin could serve as a joint solution for industry and “a better joint solution for all our customers,” Voigt said. “Let’s do it; we need to sit together and go for it.”

Miles admitted that there are no easy solutions, “but it’s going to require all of us working together to get there.”
Following the roundtable, Bob Potter, CTO of Cobham Satcom, said the next steps have to be “standards, standards, standards,” which is challenging since there are four or five different technologies applied to electronically steered antennas and they all behave differently.

“The radiation pattern standards are already there, but we need to understand how we’re going to apply them to flat panels. Flat panels cannot be an exception. They have to comply with the same rules as existing antennas.”

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