Collapsible satellite dish

James Bond Satellite Flash Gun

In today’s ever-changing world, portable earth stations continue to gain popularity among satellite users. Whether for news crews, emergency aid workers, troops or businesses/institutions needing fast on-the-ground connectivity, portable earth stations are a logical, speedy solution.

Not surprisingly, satellite equipment manufacturers are capitalizing on this demand by offering a wealth of innovative, complete portable product solutions. Here are some of them, as seen at SATELLITE 2003, in marketing brochures and product demos, held in Washington, DC, February 26-28.

Earth Stations Go To War

At show time, the situation in Iraq was heating up. Hence, it was no surprise to see military-oriented portable earth stations on the show floor. One such product was the Tactical Multi-band Satellite Terminal (T-MST), built by ITT Industries.

The T-MST is a HMMWV (Hummer) mounted satellite system that can be configured to uplink to C- Ku-, X- and military Ka-band satellites. All of its earth station controls are housed behind fold-up panels on either side of the T-MST’s equipment module. Meanwhile, on top of its roof sits a fold-down satellite antenna, while the driver and operator work inside the Hummer’s pickup-style cab.

As for toughness the T-MST can operate in temperatures ranging from -20 degreesC to +49 degreesC, in line with MIL-STD-810F. Meanwhile, this MTMCTEA-certified truck can drive on and off fixed-wing transports, be airlifted by helicopter, tie down to either rail cars or barges, and yes, drive itself to and from whatever location its capabilities are needed. In short, ITT’s T-MST is one portable earth station for today’s wide-ranging military deployments.

Of course, having mobile satellite communications on the battlefield is of little use, if enemy jamming prevents signals from getting through. Hence the reason for the SMART-T (Secure Mobile Antijam Reliable Tactical Terminal), manufactured by Raytheon. Designed as part of a U.S. Army-led project, Raytheon says the SMART-T provides robust, jam- resistant, reliable multi-channel communications for field commanders, all carried on a Hummer platform. But that is not all: beyond providing solid satellite links, the SMART-T allows the U.S. military to extend its mobile radio communications beyond the horizon, ensuring connectivity during breakout situations. Finally, the SMART-T can also be removed from the Hummer for field deployment. Amazingly, a single soldier can accomplish breakdown and set-up in 20 minutes each time, according to Raytheon.

Antennas To Go

With war comes rapid movement for both soldiers and news media, plus advancement into battle-ravaged areas lacking decent communications. For these situations, portable "antennas to go" are a must, especially those that fit easily onto commercial aircraft.

As luck would have it, AvL Technologies makes a line of small, foldable mobile antennas for satellite newsgathering (SNG) and mobile VSAT applications, including a Flyaway and Fly&Drive system. The diameters range in size from .75-meters up to 2.4-meters.

What caught this reporter’s eye at SATELLITE 2003, however, was AvL Technologies’ Roto-Lok Cable Drive System. In plain English, the Roto-Lok is a motor-driven satellite antenna mount. Put it on a vehicle, attach the antenna, then use the Roto-Lok to steer the antenna to the right direction and elevation to locate the satellite. According to AvL Technologies, the Roto-Lok has virtually no backlash, or at least six to 10 times less backlash than a conventional gear-driven positioner does. The reason: the Roto-Lok uses stainless steel aircraft cables to steer the mount. Wrapped around vertical and horizontal drums beneath and on either side of the mounting cradle, the cables move by being wound onto or off a capstan, which is driven by a centrally-mounted motor. The result is a very smooth motion that eliminates the backlash associated with gear drives.

Comtech Antenna Systems also comes to mind when "antennas to go" are on the menu. The company’s 1.2-meter and 1.8-meter Quick Deployable Antennas offer just that. Simply remove the antenna from its two shipping cases. Stand the cases on their long edges, connect one end and attach a supplied support bar to the other two end edges to create a triangle structure. Mount the antenna to this structure–there are fittings supplied–connect to a receiver or transceiver, and you are on air. Comtech also makes a 2.4-meter flyaway antenna that fits into six aircraft baggage-checkable cases, plus 2.8-meter and 5.0-meter transportable antennas that can be erected by one person.

Another "antenna to go" alternative is Microwave Radio Communication’s Advent Mantis 105KA Ku-band flyaway antenna. Apparently named for its 1.05-meter diameter, the 105KA mounts right on top of its own carrying case. Meanwhile, the Advent NewSwift 120KMA Ku-band antenna is a fold-up with its own attached base. At 1.2-meters in diameter, this antenna’s options include a GPS-based auto satellite acquisition for fast set-up.

Microwave Radio Communications also highlighted its 1.0-meter and 1.4-meter Ku-band antennas at SATELLITE 2003. These can be fixed directly onto vehicles, or set up within minutes using a quick-deploy tripod mount.

Two cases. That is all it takes to transport the new Norsat SecureLink portable earth station. The SecureLink offers MPEG-2 DVB-S video quality via satellite (between 2 and 6 Mbs). According to Norsat, the SecureLink can be set up on its collapsible tripod in less than 15 minutes. It uses GPS-based software to allow quick, precise satellite alignment. The SecureLink can also be used for data or voice, including Voice over IP. It even comes with Secure Encryption options to foil eavesdroppers.

Hit The Road, Jack

Not all portable earth stations are in boxes. Some come with wheels, engines and even CD players attached.

ND Satcom AG offers a wide selection of portable earth stations. The most compact is the webSNG. It is an antenna-equipped acquisitions van that supports popular IP streaming formats such as Quick Time, Real Player and Windows Media Player. Meanwhile, the compactSNG is based on the same Mercedes Vito van platform. It provides broadcasters with a compact mobile uplink for broadcast video feeds. The classic SNG features a fold-down rooftop antenna and the ability to package and uplink both analog and digital video feeds. And, for budget-minded broadcasters, the ND Satcom Drive and Fly package features a dual use satellite broadcast system: install the antenna/transmitter in a van for DSNG work, or remove it, pack it and send it off as a conventional flyaway.

Frontline Communications Corp. is another important player in rolling earth stations. Its mobile satellite platforms can be found in vehicles ranging from utility trucks and Ford E-350 vans to heavy-duty Freightliner satellite trucks.

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