Equipment & Components for the Satcom & Microwave/RF Industries
From components to satellite simulators
AtlanTecRF supplies a wide range of microwave and RF equipment, components and interconnects to the global market in aerospace, telecommunications, defence and scientific research. With more than 30 years of experience, the company produces both standard and custom equipment, as well as multi-function modules and sub-assemblies. Geoff Burling, CEO at AtlanTecRF, reports on the company's latest developments in satellite simulators, and plans for the future.
AtlanTecRF's range of satcom equipment
Question: Can you provide an overview of AtlanTecRF's capabilities and expertise?
Geoff Burling: We're based in Braintree, Essex, UK, and we've been in business since 1989. We started out as a manufacturer and supplier of components, but we've moved into building test equipment for a number of different customers. Over the last ten years, we've expanded that to a standard range of satcom test equipment, such as loop test translators. In more recent years, that range has evolved to include satellite simulators; that's where we see our focus right now, and that's what's really driving business forwards for us.
One of the things we excel at is versatility and flexibility in terms of customisation of products. We started business as a component supplier, so we know a lot about components and how to specify them. We have a vast inventory of components that we can draw upon, which means that if customers require any customisation of a product, it's very easy for us to do. That's been part of the secret of our success, we've been working with customers' engineers very closely to give them a solution that meets their needs specifically, rather than offering a 'take it or leave it' range of standard products.
Question: Let's talk a bit more about satellite simulators: What benefits do they deliver to satcom users?
Ku-band satellite simulator drone payload
Geoff Burling: Satellite simulators could be based on land, or on an aerial platform. Our aim is to make life easy for people who want to test their satcom system without going live on the satellite. Going live on the satellite is expensive, time consuming, and you run the risk of upsetting other users. The way that we do it takes all those problems away.
This year, we've moved forward very strongly with our drone payload product range, which provide the ability to test a fixed ground station or a station on a vehicle, ship or aeroplane from a position in the sky that might be much the same as the direction of the satellite. With satellite simulators, we can put these stations through their paces testing the signal off-satellite and by manoeuvring the payload also testing the antennas tracking, which saves an awful lot of time for the people who want to test the system.
I haven't seen anyone else doing exactly what we're doing, we're quite unique in that respect. Everything we have is packaged fairly small; we're not using large antennas, and our objective is to reduce the size even further ideally to the size of a mobile phone, which could be carried on a very small drone for delivering satellite simulation services.
Question: What can you tell us about AtlanTecRF's market evolution over the years?
Geoff Burling: We've gone into this business at just about the right time. The advent of Ka-band satellites has given us an opportunity; we already had the technology with the right frequency range, so we got straight into making Ka-band loop test translators, supplying to companies that were building equipment for airlines, bringing Internet connectivity to passengers. That was our first big opportunity, and that went very well for us. We supplied a number of satellite simulator systems in that market for Ka-band. Satellite News Gathering (SNG) opportunities developed from there, although that's mostly in Ku-band.
Ku-band satellite simulator drone payload
The success of major exhibitions such as Satellite 2018 show that the satcom market is really booming right now. The availability of various mobile stations, whether they be vehicle-based or flyaway, have given us a lot of encouragement, and many of those types of customers have come over to us.
Even more interesting for us is the use by government and military clients; we're now working with people who are doing weather forecasting, tracking satellites, putting payloads onto drones and other unmanned vehicles, high altitude balloons.
These are all the types of very interesting platforms that we're getting involved in right now. We really feel that the time is right for us.
We've had a lot of interest in Q-band lately. We've had products in Q-band for many years, but we haven't publicized much in the way of satellite simulators or loop test translators in this frequency range up until this year. It's mostly military use right now, but we have the products ready, and we do have a product for V-band as well, which we'll be launching in the next few months.
Question: What are AtlanTecRF's plans for the rest of the year?
Geoff Burling: First of all, we're looking at different antenna technologies; right now, we're using waveguide horn antennas for some of our products and we want to shrink the size of these products down with patch antennas. We have an in-house antenna research programme, which we plan to announce more news from early in 2019, when we hope to have a working product.
As I've mentioned, we're shrinking down our microwave electronics, integrating the circuits; we expect to see some performance enhancements alongside size reductions and weight reductions, all of which will allow us to address some of the aerial platforms that are now starting to emerge.
Satellites also have a lot of competition now, and you can have satellite-like communications without the satellite. There are high altitude balloons, drones, aircraft, all providing the same sort of service that satellite provides, and we're right on the back of those programmes.
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