I’ve always considered myself an amateur architect. I love both the aesthetic and structural characteristics of buildings, military installations, gardens and monuments. During my undergraduate studies I would hang out with my classmates who were in the architecture program, absorbing everything I could about the evolution of the discipline and the ways in which humans modify their surroundings to be functionally efficient and aesthetically pleasing.
One of the ongoing debates of architectural theory continues to be the relationship between form and function. Is one preeminent over the other and how does the architect handle the tension between these sometimes conflicting objectives?
I don’t recall ever seeing the “form vs. function” debate addressed directly in the world of satellite terminal design, certainly not in those specific terms. However, I would argue that there is a parallel dialogue going on in the minds of system developers and users of those systems with regard to the competing objectives of size and performance (form-factor and throughput). I believe we have recently crossed a threshold in which users no longer have to forfeit size for performance, or vice versa, as new technology effectively rectifies once-conflicting requirements — all to the benefit of the user.
This breakthrough is particularly useful for the special operations user. This user requires an exceptionally low-profile system, or form. Simultaneously, performance must exert reliability, throughput, and efficiency, or function, which supports today’s mission requirements. The special operations user can now address the need to collect and transmit extraordinary volumes of data in a manner that matches their need for stealth and mobility. This combination of form and function supports operational security (OpSec) in a highly cost effective manner.
Low-profile systems from companies like Tampa Microwave, GCS, and Vislink have developed manpacks smaller than 1.0 meter in diameter. These devices tolerate the challenges of being transported on a SEAL’s back, set up in minutes, disassembled, packed and transported again — all while delivering astonishing levels of data throughput with high reliability and availability. Honeywell/EMS, General Dynamics and Gilat offer airborne terminals that allow for previously unthinkable levels of data throughput and efficiency from terminals 18-inches in diameter or smaller, while travelling at speeds in excess of 300 km/hr.
If you require land-based mobility, ThinKom offers a flat-panel terminal, which is equivalent to a 0.34m parabolic antenna. Ibetor makes an X-Band-only equivalent. And finally, for those operating on a ship’s deck where real estate comes with a severe premium, there are solutions available. They include DRS’s SCOSS, which can be set up within 30 minutes of boarding a ship.
XTAR has seen all of these systems perform. Throughput from them, back to a hub, regularly exceeds multiple Mbps – without the need to use spread spectrum.
And, that’s just the start. There are many more systems available today offering similarly astonishing performance.
The reasons for this convergence include the general trends of technology evolution toward miniaturization. XTAR makes it a priority to work closely with the designers and manufacturers of X-band capable systems. System developers have realized that X-band, in particular commercial sources of X-band like XTAR, is the perfect frequency band to leverage performance while challenging the scope of size. No other frequency band offers the special operations user the opportunity to employ such small terminals, achieve such high throughput, and do so in a space segment efficient manner.
Regular users of XTAR space segment share their delight with us in using a terminal which is half the size as might be needed in another frequency band, while achieving four times the throughput from that terminal, and all for one-third of the space segment costs of other frequency bands.
That’s the optimum alliance between form and function.