Satellite communications are shifting to higher frequencies to keep up with the world’s rapidly growing data consumption. There are a lot of technical components that need to be developed for the W-band (75-110 GHz).
As part of the ESA ARTES program, Fraunhofer IAF has launched the BEACON project to develop a novel W-band receive front-end module together with RPG-Radiometer Physics.
It’s about developing a technology that’s less noisy than any W-band amplifier module and can transfer extremely high data rates.
It’s hard to meet the growing demand for higher data rates in satellite systems with very high data throughput due to limited bandwidth. We can meet this growing demand by using higher frequencies. Satellite communication applications are best served by the W-band (75–110 GHz): Not only does it offer high data throughput at high altitudes and in space, but it’s also going to increase system capacity, reduce the number of gateway earth stations, and save you money. So far, there hasn’t been any suitable hardware or technology for W-band applications.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, along with RPG Radiometer Physics GmbH, is taking on this challenge. The project partners are developing an integrated active W-band receive front-end with an operating frequency of 81 to 86 GHz that will enable extremely high data speeds or long-distance data transmissions with low power consumption.
Minimal noise at high data throughput
Fraunhofer IAF’s MMIC (monolithic microwave integrated circuit) technology is used in the receive module. The Fraunhofer IAF has been doing a lot of work on the mHEMT process and has developed an expertise in producing amplifiers with the lowest noise. In order to improve the state of the art, the project will reduce the noise figure to below 3.5 dB, says Dr. Philipp Neininger, Fraunhofer IAF’s project coordinator.
The receive module is also designed to separate left- and right-hand circular polarization and amplify them separately (LHCP and RHCP), effectively doubling data transmission rate.
A major challenge of the BEACON project is arranging components on a very small module. A lot of functionality is integrated into a very small footprint, including the polarizer, waveguide transitions to two amplifiers, coaxial output connectors, and DC circuitry. According to Neininger, the combination of these features-extremely low noise, two different polarizations, and an innovative array-brings an enormous technological advance to W-band components.
W-band data transmission from space already successfully tested
For the first time, satellite signals in the W-band range were received from space last year. After launching aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in 2021, the W-Cube nanosatellite began transmitting satellite signals to Earth at 75 GHz from an altitude of 500 kilometers. Fraunhofer IAF had already developed the satellite transmitter and the ground station receive modules for this mission.