Harris Corp. says deployable satellite mesh antenna market booming
February 6, 2017
PARIS — Harris Corp. Chief Executive William M. Brown said last year’s indications of a coming strong market for unfurlable mesh antennas have been confirmed, with the company booking two new orders in the last three months of 2016 and more likely on the way.
While used mainly for mobile communications, the large reflectors have also found markets in Earth observation.
“In the back half of 2016, we were awarded two unfurlable antennas and we commented that prospects were stronger than they've ever been in more than almost a decade,” Brown said in a Feb. 2 conference call with investors. “In this quarter, we were awarded another two reflectors and were pursuing another 10 opportunities, with expected awards over the next few years. So prospects remain positive.”
L-band, S-band, P-band…
Brown did not identify the contracts, but in mid-2016 Harris was awarded a contract to build the 12-meter-diameter P-band antenna for the European Space Agency’s Biomass environment-monitoring satellite.
In late 2016 Airbus Defence and Space was awarded a contract from London-based mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat for two Inmarsat-6 L-band mobile communications satellites, each of which will have a 9-meter-diameter antenna.
Also in 2016, Indonesia’s military contracted for the SatKomHan L-band mobile communications satellite, which will have a large deployable antenna.
New York Broadband LLC is working with satellite builder Boeing to build a large S-band mobile communications satellite for the Chinese market with New York Broadband’s partner, CMMB Vision Holdings.
Brown said Harris had booked orders valued at $53 million and $29 million for “space asset protection and situational awareness capabilities,” respectively. He declined to name the customers.
Much of Harris’s work is on classified U.S. military and intelligence programs. Some of it is open, such as the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) satellites. Each MUOS satellite carries two antennas, a 14-meter unfurlable dish for MUOS’s new, higher-capacity communications, and a 5.4-meter antenna for the legacy services.
Harris also builds user radios that communicate with MUOS. The fifth and latest MUOS satellite was launched in June 2016. Harris announced the successful deployment of its antennas five months later.
Harris, Northrop’s Astro Aerospace… and Oxford Space Systems
Harris and competitor Astro Aerospace, a division of Northrop Grumman, typically divide most of the big antenna contracts. European governments for years have threatened to jump-start their on production line to reduce their dependence on U.S. technology, with mixed results.
But Oxford Space Systems of Britain, starting with small-satellite applications, is developing a product line that is intended to compete with the two U.S. companies for the full range of antenna sizes, up to 15 meters in diameter. The company has backing from British venture capital investors in addition to the U.K. and European space agencies.
Peter B. de Selding