ESA title

Innovative and Disruptive GaN TR Modules

Space Segment
  • Payload
  • Product Development
SCFE (Single Chip Front-End) in X and Ku band, devoted to perform in a single MMIC the RF front end of TR modules boarded on SAR antennae, for new generation of EO satellites.
Objectives of the Product

These products respond to the main needs coming from SAR antenna manufacturers, which must procure Itar free RF components for space applications, to serve the forthcoming EO market, oriented to mini and micro-satellites clusters, which is highly demanding in terms of compactness and hardware miniaturization. Same technical and logistic needs come from AESA Radars manufacturers, for both airborne and ground applications.

Customers and their Needs

The main targeted customers are Earth Observation Satellites, specifically the SAR antennae, and airborne and ground based AESA radar integrators.

The product provides a solution to their need of better performances, higher integration and cost reduction with respect to the actual exploited solutions. The main end-users and potential customers provided their support for the definition of the product main requirements.

Targeted customer/users countries

The main users/customers are from Europe (Italy, France, Germany), but also from United States.

Product description

The SCFEs, at X- and Ku-band, are Itar free, Highly Integrated MMICs on GaN 0.15 µm technology, which replaces three separate chips HPA, LNA and Switch in a TR module for SAR antenna and AESA Radars.

The technical specifications are studied to target the system requirements for next generations of both satellite SAR and AESA radar, as provided by the main targeted customers and users.

For the X-band, the operating frequency range [8.5 – 11] GHz covers, among others, the bandwidth required by both the 3rd generation of Cosmo Sky-Med front-ends and the new concept of AESA radars under development by one of the most important European manufacturers.

The output power level and the efficiency, 15 W and 35% respectively, have been dimensioned on the basis of the new antenna architectures and, so, of the ratio between the number of modules combined on it and the total power required for the targeted resolution. The elimination of the bulky circulator at the antenna allows to get an overall Noise Figure at the level of the GaAs based modules, lower than 3 dB.

The Ku-band, covering the range [13 – 16] GHz, addresses a new concept of SAR antenna for earth observation, which both the Italian and other European Space Agencies are looking at with increasing interest thanks, also, to the forthcoming class of mini and micro-satellites. The power level, of about 7.5 W, is dimensioned to obtain the same SNR of the X-band satellites with an average antenna power of about the 67% lower. The PAE higher than 35% is confirmed as the main priority at system level and the Noise Figure lower than 3.5 dB ensures the required receiver sensitivity.

Block diagrams of the new SCFE concept

Added Value

The proposed solution gives the opportunity to the system integrators and final users to exploit a new architecture concept at both TR modules and antenna level.

These innovative MMICs, based on the state of the art GaN European technology with very high power density and good noise characteristics, integrate in a small chip the Power Amplifier, exploited along the Tx section, and the Low Noise Amplifier, on the receiver path.

Furthermore, its robustness, both electrical and thermal, makes possible the replacement of the two main cumbersome and bulky components, the ferrite circulator and the PIN limiter. Indeed, the SCFE embeds also a Power Switch (SPDT), capable to isolate the transmitting and the receiving paths, respectively, during the Tx or Rx period. This fulfils, together with the more robust LNA, the robustness’ requirements of the receiving chain.

Figure below compares the block diagrams of a classical front-end with the new SCFE concept.

Thanks to this new concept a classical TR module, e.g. those boarded on SAR antenna of COSMO-SkyMed, may reduce its footprint of at least 50%. This leads to a mass reduction of about 20gr per module, with a huge benefit at antenna level, which, in the 2nd generation, embeds 1280 T/R modules for each polarimetric channel. The SAR antenna will reduce its weight of 51 Kg.

Current status

The design specifications for the single functionalities (HPA, LNA and SPDT) are identified and the related RF budget defined on the basis of the technological analysis results. The computed RF budgets for the whole SCFEs allows to confirm the design specifications.

Prime Contractor Company
MEC - Microwave Electronics for Communications
Italy Flag Italy
Contractor Project Manager
Giorgio Mariani
Via San Nicolò di Villola, 1 40127 Bologna (IT)

+39 0516333403


ESA Technical Officer
Michele Castorina

Current activities