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01 Dec 06. Army Demonstrates ‘Most Significant Change To Satellite Communications Worldwide’ in 30 Years.

U.S. Army researchers and their industry partners accomplished with a one-centimeter chip made with hyper-cooled niobium what has always required racks of expensive satellite communications gear in a breakthrough demonstration Nov. 28 in Elmsford, N.Y.

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and their partners, HYPRES Inc. and L3-Communications, demonstrated direct radio frequency digitization in the X-band frequency range using the HYPRES M132 processing chip cooled at 4 Kelvin (- 452 degrees Fahrenheit).

The broadcast selected to traverse the new media was a video clip of an aggressive military live-fire training engagement.

The breakthrough could in essence take out the “middleman” in military operated X-Band satellite communications frequencies by enabling a signal to be digitized without the need for Intermediate Frequency “down” converters and other analog components, said Jack Wong, CERDEC’s contract officer representative for the project.

A full enterprise military satellite terminal configuration has 56 down-converters with each converter costing approximately $28,000, said Rick Dunnegan, project’s lead technical integrator from CERDEC.

Military satellite stations around the world use down-converters to convert the Super High Frequency (SHF) also referred to as ‘X-Band’, down to a much lower intermediate frequency. The reason: no existing modems are currently capable of conducting the demodulation process directly at the X-Band frequency range explains Dunnegan.

Modulation is the processing term for modifying radio transmissions to carry data, and demodulation is the processing term for harvesting data from radio transmissions.

The technological innovations and persistence of Dr. Oleg Mukhanov, HYPRES general manager and vice president of technology and Dr. Deep Gupta, HYPRES vice president for research and development were key to the project’s success, said Dunnegan. “The Army’s preeminent pursuit to push technology beyond the current boundaries can have a big payoff. Nov. 28, 2006 turned out to be the first instalment to the taxpayer in reducing satellite communications costs.”

For a time, the concept of using niobium in the processors posed significant safety concerns due to the need to use helium to sustain the required low temperature, which, among other reasons, caused many to dismiss niobium as a viable option, said Mukhanov. “This is no longer the case: a “cooler” now can be powered by AC (alternating current) and has been shown to be very safe.”

This breakthrough can potentially lead to a reduction of satellite’s power consumption, which equates to fewer dollars spent, said Dunnegan. “In the past 30-year history of satellite communications, this Army led effort is the most significant change to satellite communications worldwide.”

“This is a very exciting time,” said Dr. Gupta.

Jack Wong, CERDEC’s contract officer representative worked with HYPRES for two years on a CERDEC small business innovative research Phase II contract as they developed the chip and refined the processes. Rick Dunnegan took over technical integration responsibility in April of 2006.

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