Episode 41 of the Space Industry podcast is a discussion with Gonzalo Crespo, Aerospace Manager at satsearch member EOSOL Group.
Episode show notes
EOSOL Group is a global engineering and technical assistance services company. With experience in more than 40 countries around the world, the company operates in the strategic energy, industry, automobile, civil works, telecommunications, space, and defense sectors.
In this episode we discuss the development of ground segment antennas and feeds, and their uses in modern space missions and services. We cover:
- The architecture of a ground station and the different kinds of ground antenna on the market today
- The differences in requirements of NewSpace missions vs. traditional space missions
- The innovations in the ground segment driven by the growing demand for higher frequency communications
- How ground stations can provide flexibility for the market while maintaining performance and cost-effectiveness
- The major trends in ground antennas and feeds, and what these mean for space missions
You can find out more about EOSOL Group here on their satsearch supplier hub.
The portfolio of EOSOL Group
The EOSOL X-band Monopulse Array Antenna is a multi-layer planar array system with monopulse capabilities operating in X-band for LEO smallsats. The planar stacked patch array is made up of 8 by 16 elements, with linear polarization, divided into 4 quadrants or sub-arrays.
The EOSOL ANT-COMS-HORN-KA-D18 is an antenna designed in K and Ka band frequencies which mainly provides multi-carrier operation in applications that required high bandwidth and high data rate throughput.
The EOSOL FEED-RAD-C-X-DLP is designed to feed a refector at C and X band mainly for Earth Observation Radiometry applications.
The EOSOL FEED-COMS-KA-TX-RX-SCP is designed to feed an offset reflector at Ka band mainly for telecom applications.
The EOSOL CH-ARC-K-KA-D21 is a K-Ka band corrugated feed horn designed to feed a reflector and to provide high performance communications due to its high effiency and low crosspolar level. Furthermore, it achieves low sidelobes level despite the high efficiency presented.
The EOSOL FEED-RAD-K-KA-DLP is designed to feed a refector at K and Ka band mainly for Earth Observation Radiometry applications.
The EOSOL SPH-K-KA-D15 is a spline horn designed to feed a reflector and to provide high performance communications due to its high effiency and low sidelobe level.
The EOSOL FEED-COMS-KU-TX-RX-SLP is designed to feed an offset reflector at Ku band mainly for telecom applications.
The EOSOL FEED-COMS-X-TX-RX-SCP is designed to feed an offset reflector at X band mainly for telecom applications.
Please note that while we have endeavoured to produce a transcript that matches the audio as closely as possible, there may be slight differences in the text below. If you would like anything in this transcript clarified, or have any other questions or comments, please contact us today.
[00:00:00] Hywel: Hello everybody. I’m your host Hywel Curtis. And I’d like to welcome you to the space industry by satsearch, where we share stories about the companies taking us into orbit. In this podcast, we delve into the opinions and expertise of the people behind the commercial space organizations of today who could become the household names of tomorrow.
Before we get started with the episode, remember, you can find out more information about the suppliers, products, and innovations that are mentioned in this discussion on the global marketplace for space at satsearch.com
Hello everybody. And welcome to today’s episode. I’m joined today by Gonzalo Crespo Aerospace manager at EOSOL group.
EOSOL group is a global engineering and technical assistance services company and the business has experience in more than 40 countries, I believe, around the world, in sectors such as energy or the automotive sector, civil works, telecommunications and obviously defense and space.
The aerospace division of the business was actually set up in 2019 with a team of engineers from across the company with experience in things like satellite communications and space, and is nowadays composed of a range of engineers working on software and electric and mechanical aspects, but focusing primarily on antennas and feeds in a variety of missions and service areas. And that’s what we’re going to talk about with Gonzalo today.
So Gonzalo hi, welcome to the podcast. Thank you very much for being here.
[00:01:29] Gonzalo: Hi everybody. Thank you. It’s a pleasure to share this thing with you and been able to talk about the antennas and ground stations. So it’s great for me. Thank you.
[00:01:40] Hywel Curtis: Fantastic. Now, today, we’re going talk mainly about ground station antennas and feeds.
Now, before we before we get into the specific questions, I wondered if you could give us a little bit of an overview of the different kinds of ground station antenna that people can, access on the market.
[00:01:56] Gonzalo: Yeah, sure. Basically, there are two types of station antennas antenna for reception of radio from astronomical radio source into the space and operate into different frequencies, but depending on what scientific experiments are looking for now, and then the most commercial antennas that are antennas for communication with spacecraft. Can be satellites, launchers, space station, probes, depending on application can be for remote sensing, telemetry, TT&C, data link and broadcasting services.
So there is different, or there are different type of ground station antenna, and there are of course different frequency of operation depending on type of communications and applications. All this communication must be regulated by the ITU, the International Telecommunications Union. Typically each satellite operator also has their own technical standards for ground station and satcom terminals. And so they also must be standard compliant.
When traditionally communicating with satellites, you are using F-VHF frequencies typically yagi antennas or similar, but when you are moving into higher frequencies, such as S-/X-/Ka-bands traditionally reflector antennas are used. Size of reflector can vary depending on the frequency of operation and also the gain requirements.
And this is a key factor for the ground station definition. And depending on that, there, there can be stations varying from three meters up to 13 meters, or even more if, for example, for deep space communication.
Recently with the increase of NewSpace and mainly the increase of missions in LEO and MEO constellations, the installation of new ground station is of great importance, but frequencies and sizes are changing and moving to a smaller antennas.
So we have more antennas, but the smaller ones typically, and today think we are going focus on ground stations. Use it for communications and operation of LEO, MEO and GEO satellites, which are the most common ones and especially focus about the RF part of ground stations, which is what EOSOL specializing, and I think, yeah, we can give an overview of all of this.
[00:04:20] Hywel Curtis: Thank you for the overview, firstly on the different aspects of the market and hopefully is a great introduction to people, but yeah, if you could give us in brief, what the architecture of a ground station is, and then how the where the satellite antenna or the ground station antenna fits in so that people understand what the different parts of these systems are that we are hopefully going to discuss further.
[00:04:39] Gonzalo: Well, satellite stations play a critical role in the satellite network, as it needs to take care of recording all the information coming from space, very weak and noisy signals, recover them and post processing for, to keep extract signals and do it for the system.
To do so this, typical architecture of a ground station is the next, is the antenna (a reflector) who receive/transmit the signal, then feed chain composed by the passive part, typically Horn, waveguides, tracking monopulse, OMT, diplexers) where the signal travels, the active part (LNA, power amplifier) to adequate and regenerate the signal and finally Up-Converters and Down-Converters to convert the RF signal to IF signal. These are more the main part of the, then there is the modem to manage the receive or transmit the info and connect directly to the computer or hardware to connect. The signal can also be transmitted by fiber optic or, point to point microwave link in case a computer or hardware is in remote from antenna.
Typical we have a ground station that is mass point to a target. We have the antenna control unit that is a mechanical hardware in charge to, move the antenna in order to point to a specified target. Now with new development, first electronic pointed antennas are starting to become real, but solution still sometime away. And in any case for some application, it’ll still be better to use the traditional system composed by reflector from the system.
This is what a traditional ground station is composed by, in short, a ground station is a communications system that allows sending and receiving information and the adequacy of the signal to allow communication with satellites and spacecrafts. That’s it.
That one thing, from all this part, EOSOL Aerospace is specialized, is in the development of the reflector and the RF feeds which is the first part of the signal that when it arrives at the ground station, or the last one when it leaves.
[00:07:17] Hywel Curtis: Excellent. So it’s really those entry and exit points for the system. Um, yeah. Thank you for over this. Its fascinating to see. Cause you know, we talk so much about, or at least in parts of the press, you know, how much about the innovation is going into what’s, in space, what’s on the satellite itself.
But obviously each of those new capabilities, whether it’s an enhancement to existing performance or new new kinds of data and for, and, and operations, they, it has to be matched by innovation on the ground segment that can, that can handle the data and deal with the data. So it’s interesting to, to hear about all the different parts of it. Thank you now. And on that, I mean, NewSpace missions have got lots of differences compared to traditional space missions. And you mentioned some of the traditional architecture.
This is the, the newer, um, the mechanical pointing, antennas and stuff like that. What does it mean from a ground station’s perspective when you compare the requirements that NewSpace missions have against traditional space missions?
[00:08:13] Gonzalo: In traditional missions, the, the mission itself, have to contemplate and undertake deployment of both space segment and ground segment.
This involves deploying the control station to communicate with the, with the satellite. And traditionally, is the operator who is responsible for both part the, of the infrastructure. It’s clear that with NewSpace or better said new LEO-MEO constellations defines a new paradigm. And also in terms of communication and control, in this new scenario, there are different options.
The operator of the constellation can decide to own also the it’s on ground segment and deploy several antennas all around the world, or they can trust in a third party typically at teleport to complete this mission. So then they can save costs and at the same time they can mitigate risk. Now. So these are the two options. It either case, it is clear that the, for the control and communications of the new constellations that are being deployed with hundreds of satellites, its constellation its necessary to deploy new antennas on the ground or around the world to have hundred percent coverage in every moment with every satellite which is difficult.
In addition, in order to achieve profitable business model, it’s necessary to adjust costs. And this requires standardization of processes, including the use of spectrum, allowing new companies teleports to offer their services to different players is mandatory to reduce costs and make these, new, business model profitable.
[00:09:54] Hywel Curtis: Right. Brilliant. Yeah. I mean, that makes sense. That’s great. And, obviously that, that system is enabling smaller, new, you know, NewSpace companies to specialize because as you say, they don’t have to build the, the relevant ground segment. They can access it from a third party. So that’s, that’s great now.
And, and in such missions that we’re seeing in, in NewSpace, whether they’re, you know, research or, or, the development of services, there’s a lot movement towards higher frequencies as you’d expect same as terrestrial applications, which is becoming more and more hungry for data. Now, what sort of innovations are occurring on, in, on ground stations to keep up with the changing in requirements of the, of the industry of the space segment?
[00:10:34] Gonzalo: Yeah, for sure. It is clear that whenever the technology allows it, we look to go higher in frequency, because everything gets smaller and also you can manage more amount of data of information. So it’s, it’s very important and everybody looks to go higher frequencies when it’s possible, but the same time the developments and new developments become more challenging.
At those frequencies, because manufacturing of components are more complex. Everything is smaller. So it has pros and cons and at the same, you’re allowed to get everything more compact and also the antenna size. and we are seeing reduction in size, for example, in ground stations. But, well, also as you say, increasing the frequency what we get is to have higher absolute bandwidths and therefore greater upload and download data capacity, which is very important and interesting. And another reason to increase the frequency is the congestion of the spectrum at the lower bands because this is becoming really big.
Currently the highest band used for communication with satellites, also for the end-user link, is the Ka band. It is becoming demonstration. But it’s also beginning to be congested and therefore the use of Q/V band and also optical links are already been explored and will be the future focusing on rotating element, that innovations that taken place are.
Firstly, as I mentioned by going up in frequency, everything become more compact and this allows to reduce dimensions. So going for example, from antenna, typical of seven to 13 meters, in diameter, the new ones that LEO-MEO satellites can be ranging from to five meters. And we’re now for example, collaborating with our clients who are ground station antenna manufacturers or integrators helping them in their designs at RF level, while they focus on the mechanics or the complete system, providing with accurate models that allows them to develop faster, their new products. So this is something.
In addition in traditional solutions, that we could say, ground stations mounting reflector antennas, new manufacturing techniques are allowing also to develop new components and also to reduce the number of parts, for example, advanced manufacturing techniques, as we are already undertaking in some of our projects. For example, we have currently won a project from the European Space Agency for the development of an innovative Ka-band TM01 mode extractor designed to provide self-pointing capabilities to compact SATCOM terminals or Ground Stations. So this is a example of allowing do everything more, more compact and integrating everything in Ka-band as traditionally been done in, for example, X-band or S-band.
if we go to new developments that are now underway or will arrive in the coming years the main innovations, we can expect are making use of Q/V band as I already said, for the new control stations. There are already some examples of this with some demonstrators such as the Alphasat Aldo Paraboni satellite developed by the European Space Agency or more recently the Eutelsat Konnect satellite which incorporate Q/V band solutions.
Second, the use both flat and horn phase arrays antennas that allow multiple beams to connect to different satellites at the same time for constellations, this is very interesting. Now in this line, we are also working on the development of both in Ka-band and Q/V-band.
And finally the optical links that will allow massive data download and that can be very interesting for most demanding missions in terms of data. For example those optical satellites that handle a large amount of information and that need to be downloaded as soon as possible.
This will be also possible in the, in the coming years. So these are the main, advances, we expect in the, in the sector now, in the coming years.
[00:15:25] Hywel Curtis: Brilliant. Thank you. That’s , that’s great. Um, a great overview. So like I said, it is tallying with a lot of what we are seeing in the, the space sector the space segment side of things in order to, um, in order to deal with the, the data requirements. So that’s great.
Now you touched earlier on the, the fact that the geographical coverage of ground stations is, is an important factor for emissions and how, you know, we compared NewSpace to traditional space missions, but ground stations are located in a limited number of sites around the world. And there are new ones opening up, but still obviously the limitations are there.
What kind of flexibility our ground station is able to provide today, to to accommodate, like the needs of different operators and their missions, especially given the fact that they may operate in different frequencies. And as you mentioned, there are bands that are becoming congested. And I think more specifically, how does that translate into the changes that need to be made in the elements such as what you provide the, the feeds, the antennas, themselves, those sorts of things?
[00:16:23] Gonzalo: There are certain locations on the planet that are optimal for satellite tracking communication. In any case thanks to frequency regulation, all satellites or constellations must operate on specific frequencies, which helps to the deployment of the necessary infrastructure. For example is not necessary to deploy the whole new antenna per mission.
It’s true that there will be parts such as the, that maybe mission-specific, but these costs are a small part of the overall infrastructure investment. A large part of the station is compatible for several missions. This makes teleport relevant said before, allowing the overall cost of, to be reduced this part of infrastructure can be shared differents different operators and can be operated by third party, which offering this service.
So this can allow to mitigate reduced part of investment for the deployment of constellation, for example, for the part we are interested, which is the antenna, is an asset that it can be used by different missions, since the RF chain (including the reflector) is common to all of them.
Once you have the feed defined it or signed it for certain specific frequency band and just changing part of the, the RF chain or the model you can use the same infrastructure.
[00:17:55] Hywel Curtis: So there is flexibility. There’s plenty of flexibility there. Now, obviously, I mean, there are plenty of existing ground stations that have been around for a long time.
They’ve, um, many legacy stations they’ve been around as long as space missions have been undertaken, what sort of upgrades could such legacy stations, if we consider those, what sort of upgrades could they, could they do to stay relevant or even futureproof themselves to, to deal with some of the innovations that you’ve mentioned are on the way.
[00:18:24] Gonzalo: Yeah. Yeah. What we have seen is that many customers are looking to upgrade the existing antennas rather to, install new ones so they can remain operational. For example, one thing we see and we are doing in different projects is to adapt the, the feed and the RF chain to new frequencies, while maintaining the, the optics of antenna, mainly the reflector, which is a very expensive part of the, of the hardware.
This means that while maintaining one of expensive part of the ground station, you can still use the whole ground station, to work in new band, for example, from systems that traditionally operated in S-band pass to multi-frequency S-X systems. And in other cases, what we also see the improvement of existing systems, by incorporating new or improving improve its functionalities such as the inclusion of tracking monopulse solutions to allow the correct pointing of the antennas. We also have to do this type of things for some clients in the past.
We like this kind of project very much because they fit perfectly with our capabilities. This is where we can support our customers by offering them solutions tailored to their needs on the basis of a given antenna that must continue operative.
Just a couple of examples of projects we have recently accomplished: first one client requested us to perform an upgrade of a 13m ground station they have in its portfolio, operating in S band to operate in dual S-X bands but maintaining the optics. This has been done designing a specific dual band feed (including monopulse tracking for pointing purposes).
Second example, We have also provided support to certain teleport operators providing them consultancy services at antenna level to help them to decide between install a brand new ground station or retrofit a old one only in the RF chains, allowing him to save money.
So, yeah, We have great expertise designing reflectors and feed chains, not only for ground stations but for SATCOM terminals, scientific and space applications. And this gives us a great overview of problems, how different systems must operate and also the understanding of what our clients need, and this allows us to provide them with the right solution.
[00:21:03] Hywel Curtis: It’s usually going to be better for, for clients to, um, upgrade what they have and adapt what they have to the, the needs of new mission. And specifically as you’ve said, if this involves adapting the feed chain or leaving in place the operational the most expensive parts, the, the reflector of the optics of the antennas, then. Yeah, that’s going to be beneficial for them. So that’s great.
We we’ve mentioned some of the, um, the, the trends that we see in the industry and how these are impacting the work that you, you guys are doing. And the ground stations are having to deal with sort of things like the miniaturization of hardware, but also, which has been going on for a long time, but also these emerging ideas or, or that um, solutions people are testing like software defined technologies or the edge processing of data in, in space or, um, or on the ground, I guess.
Um, these are, you know, pretty prominent themes in upstream satellite development. Is this something you’re also seeing in the ground segment that these changes translating through to, to new, um, requirements or new discussions with your clients?
[00:22:05] Gonzalo: Yeah, for sure. This is not a part where we are really involved. We’re aware of that and technological advance, but also reaching the, the, the control centers and all this is already incorporated allowing, for example, to operate satellites remotely from anywhere in the world and as happens in other sector, traditionally, you think in a, in a working in the same room, not to operate the satellite, but not anymore is, is mandatory. You can operate your satellite anywhere, remotely. Thanks to digitalisation and standardisation, a ground station can operate multiple satellites Multiple satellites, even from different constellations at the same time in remote areas or remotely.
And for example, there are companies that without having the necessary infrastructure in terms of antennas, offer services of full, constellation operation.
And this is possible thanks to the digitalisation, new, more open business models and the existence of independent teleport all over the world, that offer their services and connectivity capacity allows these, new business model. So yeah, for sure.
Brilliant. Yeah. You’ve mentioned, um, standardization previously and digitalization.
[00:23:32] Hywel Curtis: Yeah, really key, key drivers of some of these changes in the industry. So that’s great. Thanks. Just finally, I asked version this question to most of our guests.
I wondered, what other trends do you see happening in, in your field in ground station equipment? You know, in general, in the next sort of five years, What are you, at EOSOL group, what are you most excited about? What are you looking forward to?
[00:23:54] Gonzalo: In the short term, we do not expect major technological developments, but we do expect developments in terms of the business model , with teleports and companies offering antennas as a service becoming increasingly relevant in the operation of certain missions and becoming important partners for, for operators.
In the middle long term, we do expect new ground station architectures and, as far as we are concerned, new antenna and radiating element architectures, with multiple options , reflectors, phase arrays and optical links, that will coexist and that each one will have certain advantage, depending on each mission or each constellation. We do not think that traditional ground station will disappear.
We do not expect optical to cover everything. So all the, the all the options will co-exist. And as for spectrum regulation and spectrum use, what we expect is that as has happened in the past, as technology permits higher and higher frequency will be sought, that will allow the management of more information and also decongestion of the spectrum.
In our case, we are committed to continuing to develop antennas and feed systems that meet the demands of our customers. The needs we currently see and expect to continue to see are Multi-frequency systems especially covering the S-band, X-band and increasingly Ka-band, Q/V Band, increasingly compact systems, but with the same or better performance, which is challenging also.
And finally, um, as I said, farther on the lead to higher frequencies use of phase array antennas also for ground station and increasingly the use of optical links is possible, and it is clear that as it has been the case in recent years, the space sector will continue to change rapidly with new entry players, new ideas. And we at EOSOL Aerospace expect to be really to address all these new challenges, in terms of antennas that are coming up.
And of course, we’ll continue to offer our customers as state of the art antennas and feed solutions. Not only in ground station, but also for scientific space and defense applications.
[00:26:18] Hywel Curtis: Fantastic. Thank you very much.
That’s um, that’s a great place to, to wrap up the conversation. So yeah, I think, um, you will have taught our listeners today, a great deal about the operation of ground stations and the, and antennas, on them and how this, area is changing as well.
It’s great to see these advances in flexibility, but with a focus on the commercial aspects of them. So upgrade and existing, you know, technologies and, and equipment we are required and making things more versatile to adapt to new business models, I think is it’s really interesting area.
And, um, yeah, best of luck from, from us and everything that you’re doing. And thank you for sharing all that, those insights on the podcast today.
[00:26:53] Gonzalo: Thanks to you, thanks to satsearch cause you guys are doing a great job.
[00:26:59] Hywel Curtis: Oh, thank you very much. And to all our listeners out there. Thank you very much for spending time with us on the space industry podcast today.
If you’d like to find out more about EOSOL group and the, the company’s work and the capabilities in addressing a lot of the, the problems and the opportunities that we’ve discussed in the podcast today, we’ll have, plenty of links to the show notes and find out more, at the company’s website on the satsearch platform.
And, um, and on the platform too, we can also help you with any, any queries you may have regarding technical documentation information, introduction to the company, those sorts of things. And, um, yeah, just wanted to thank you again for, for your time and attention. And we look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Space Industry by satsearch. I hope you enjoyed today’s story about one of the companies taking us into orbit. We’ll be back soon with more in-depth behind-the-scenes insights from private space businesses. In the meantime, you can go to satsearch.com for more information on the space industry today, or find us on social media if you have any questions or comments. Stay up to date. Please subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you can also get each podcast on demand on iTunes, Spotify, the Google play store, or whichever podcast service you typically use.