Talking to EO satellites in the 26 GHz spectrum

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Space-based frequency converters for less crowded bands

The traditional satellite market – dominated by bus-sized satellites and mega budgets – is giving way to SmallSats, CubeSats, NanoSats and even PicoSats that weigh less than 1 kilogram. These light, miniaturized satellites are much less expensive to send into orbit, creating a new kind of space race in the private sector.

According to a recent report from Euroconsult, more than 7,000 SmallSats will be launched by 2027 – and of those, approximately 1,400 will be for earth observation (EO)1. EO companies are springing up everywhere, seizing new business opportunities and delivering everything from climate change monitoring services to a space-version of air traffic control.

Overcrowded 8 GHz spectrum spills into 26 GHz

Even though the satellite market is changing, communications spectrum is still a licensed commodity regulated by bodies like the ITU, FCC or Industry Canada. If you need to talk to your satellite – to steer it, to tell it to turn off or on, or to ask it to download the data it has stored, you need spectrum. But many EO companies are finding the traditional 8 GHz spectrum so crowded that interference and lack of coordination are making it unusable.

The good news is that the ITU has assigned some additional spectrum for EO companies in the 26 GHz range. The bad news is that frequency converters – the “space radios” that receive earth signals to control the satellites – are typically only built for the 8 GHz spectrum. It’s not that they aren’t out there, it’s just that they’re harder to find.

Finding frequency converters for 26 GHz

There is only a handful of companies that make frequency converters for the 26 GHz – or K-band – range (Orbital Research is one of them). As you can imagine, the hardware for these frequency converters needs to be small and light enough to fit on a toaster-sized CubeSat. The converters also need to use less power, so the satellite has enough juice to carry out its main mission. Until 26 GHz gets more popular, the price is a little higher, but price balances against weight as every pound in space has a dollar figure against it.

What should you look for in a good 26 GHz frequency converter?

  • A 4” x 4” footprint is ideal (same as the footprint of a CubeSat)
  • Capability to move up and down the available spectrum range for maximum flexibility in avoiding interference and coordination issues
  • Ability to interface into a Software Defined Radio (SDR) so that you can program the receiver for any waveform you like

If you have any questions about frequency conversion in the 26 GHz spectrum, please don’t hesitate to contact us – we’d be happy to help.

Looking for a space-based 26 GHz frequency converter? We just launched a 26 GHz receiver and can build custom products to suit your needs.

 


1 http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/7000_small_satellites_to_be_launched_over_coming_decade_999.html

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