How to shortcut mmWave transceiver development for LEO satellites.

13 June 2022

by Dan Rhodes, Business Development Director, Filtronic

The advances made in mmWave technology at Filtronic over the past decade offer a valuable opportunity for global communications businesses to accelerate their satellite launch programmes. The core technology employed within the latest iteration of our E-band transceiver modules (Morpheus II), and amplifier modules (Cerus) provide the basis for cost effective, exceptional performance Satcom transceivers – giving major satellite businesses a chance to bypass lengthy in-house development programmes.

For those major businesses planning vast Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations, there’s no time to lose in sourcing the complex radio frequency (RF) components that transmit and receive signals at mmWave in space. Quality, performance and reliability are essential for these components if they are to operate consistently for many years in the extremes of space.

Access over a decade of innovation and development

While the mega satellite constellation companies may have considerable expertise and resources at their disposal, any development programme will inevitably face pitfalls, generate waste and incur significant costs along the way. All of that can be avoided by tapping into the experience, expertise and proven technology available from Filtronic.

The core technology within our highly integrated Morpheus II E-band transceiver module, together with our Cerus amplifier technology provides a basis for the transmit and receive functions required for ultra-high capacity satellite communications gateway links. Both products are designed to withstand the rigors of LEO Space deployment, but without the costs traditionally associated with solutions designed for deep space missions and GEO satellite applications. Since we produced our first generation E-band transceiver – Proteus – ten years ago, we’ve made significant improvements in costs, efficiency, and yield through an ongoing process of optimisation and innovation.

Transformational cost and performance improvements

The first generation transceiver module was far bigger, heavier and less integrated than our latest iteration (Morpheus II). Throughout the technology evolution process, we’ve integrated two circuit boards into one – reducing material, complexity and operational costs while enhancing performance. The development costs for Morpheus II are less than a tenth of the same costs for Proteus.

The build cost per unit for each transceiver today is a third of the cost per unit for Proteus. Over the same period, internal manufacturing yield has increased significantly. When you factor in the increase in production output from just 200 units per month to more than 3,000 per month today, combined with the difference in unit costs, this represents a significant benefit.

Yield improvements are the result of major learned experience and gradual iterative improvements. They are also the result of investments in state-of-the-art, precision manufacturing equipment at our mmWave centre of excellence. These advanced facilities combined with our engineering expertise are a powerful force for innovation and quality.

Faster, better testing

Product testing too has improved. For Proteus, testing, diagnostics and reworking took nearly two hours. For Morpheus II, the process takes less than an hour. That’s a vast efficiency improvement given today’s higher production volumes and the fact that every single unit needs to be tested.

Intelligent design for efficient manufacturing      

Closely aligning the product design with well characterised manufacturing processes and equipment is the key to repeatable volume manufacturing with high yields. Decisions made early in the design process have serious implications for manufacturing. That’s why it’s so important to access the right expertise from start to finish. At Filtronic, we’ve been asked to intervene to improve manufacturing yields for products designed in-house by clients or competitors. In one instance, we introduced improvements for a V-band transceiver that increased yields from 70% when the client tried to ramp production, to more than 95%, after Filtronic had introduced a design for manufacture improvement and took over the volume manufacturing.

We’ve done all the hard work

All of the improvements achieved in mmWave transceivers at Filtronic have been hard-won, requiring expertise, ingenuity and investment throughout prototyping, manufacturing, testing and characterisation. These processes take time – and there are no shortcuts. Any organisation starting out on this development process has all of these hurdles, trials and costs ahead of them. Filtronic is an expert in critical communications and has been delivering quality, high-performance products for demanding applications for over forty years, so understand implicitly the requirements associated with LEO product qualification.  

For organisations up against aggressive product development timescales to meet satellite launch schedules, the expertise at Filtronic could be the key to accelerating mmWave system development. Companies could avoid the time and costs associated with refining and perfecting this complex technology – expediting time to market and potentially stealing a march on the competition.

To learn more about our mmWave capabilities click here

To talk to Filtronic about backhaul, mmWave or transceivers contact us today

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