Agile Payload Components

Status date

Since a long time ago, Thales Alenia Space Italia recognized that broadband communications should have been characterized by the use of a number of enabling technologies, such as:

  • Multi-beam antennas to improve link performance and allow frequency reuse,
  • High frequency band components (Ka Band and above), to improve spectrum availability,
  • On board regeneration and/or switching to improve performance and to support inter-beam connectivity.

The Company objective is to strengthen its position in the field of agile payloads, by developing the critical building blocks that allow to propose competitive and “one step ahead” solutions for bandwidth management. The present project was focused on the development and qualification of four units, i.e.:

These units were tailored for Ku/K band applications, with the possibility to migrate to other frequency bands with limited modifications.


Taking into account the peculiarities of the units and the target performances, several challenges had to be faced. The most remarkable are:

  • Mechanical: the design of all the units had to be optimized to minimize both size and mass, in view of their extensive use in broadband satellites. Interconnection and distribution issues (at both DC and RF) required special care on large units (FGU and Microwave Switching Matrix).
  • Performance: Examples of critical parameters that required special care are: phase noise and rejection of spurious modulation for Agile Converter; homogeneity of performance for any input-output path and in any working configuration for Microwave Switching Matrix; crosstalk and conducted susceptibility for FGU; VCO bandwidth for Agile Command Receiver.

Benefits have been identified at various levels:

  • At unit level, a remarkable know-how has been gained in implementing wideband and agile architectures. In particular, modular design has been adopted with the objective of easily adapting the unit design to different configurations and payload needs. This feature has been already exploited in a short term flight opportunity (AMOS 4 satellite of IAI/MBT), where four different typologies of Agile Converter (for a total of 26 units) and two different sizes of Microwave Switch Matrix have been integrated.
  • At payload level, the main benefit is represented by the improvement in the set of building blocks now available for the design of agile and flexible payloads. The availability of an early flight opportunity also allows to validate in orbit the developed technologies.
  • At communication market level, the units developed are addressed to benefit all satellite service providers as well as commercial and governmental users operating in the Ku and Ka bands, particularly focused on Broadband and Multispot applications. Both Users and Providers require a high degree of freedom so as to:
    • Allow to manage the channel frequency allocation during the operational life time following the market demand,
    • Operate at the maximum extended frequency range,
    • Operate at a common Ku/Ka multi-coverage through a single Ku or Ka Hub station, with large possibilities of combining uplink and downlink channels,
    • Provide Ku and Ka broadband services according to the market demand trend.

Each unit developed under the contract has its own peculiarity that makes them suitable for their application in flexible payloads.

  • The Agile Frequency Converter, implementing a double conversion, has been designed to operate over a wide input frequency range at Ku-band (from 13 to 14.5 GHz) and to convert to a single channel at K-band (from 19 to 21.2 GHz). Selection of both input and output frequencies is very flexible, and also channel bandwidth is selectable by means of channel filters at intermediate frequency.
  • The Frequency Generation Unit is capable of generating several reference frequencies with very good phase noise performance, and therefore it allows to implement complex frequency conversion schemes in payloads operating over very wide frequency bands.
  • The Integrated Microwave Switch Matrix allows for the switching of single channels from any input to any output, as well as combining several channels on a single output and, conversely,  broadcasting the same channel over several outputs.
  • The Agile Command Receiver allows for setting in orbit the receive frequency of the telecommand channel over the whole Ku band.

The contract started in June 2008 and the development and qualification of the units was completed with the last TRB in March 2012.

Current status

All EQM units are now developed and have successfully passed the qualification tests.