SATCOM antennas are essential components in unmanned and autonomous systems, facilitating reliable data transmission over long distances via satellite links. UAV antennas utilize sophisticated tracking mechanisms to maintain connectivity with satellites, enabling seamless communication between ground stations and unmanned vehicles such as drones, autonomous vehicles, and robotic systems. SATCOM antennas ensure uninterrupted data exchange, allowing unmanned and autonomous applications to operate efficiently across diverse environments and remote locations.
Overview UAV SATCOM Antennas
By Mike Ball Last updated: May 29th, 2024

SATCOM antennas allow UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), drones and unmanned systems to transmit and receive signals for the purposes of communication via satellite.

SATCOM provides both military and civilian drone platforms with a number of advantages compared to other communication methods, including global coverage and the ability to operate BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight).

UAV SATCOM antennas may be designed for a number of frequencies, including Ku, Ka, X, L, C and S bands.

Multifrequency SATCOM antennas allow UAVs to access multiple frequency bands, thus providing a more versatile capability that enables the aircraft to switch between different bands according to data requirements, global location, environmental conditions and tactical considerations.

UAVs may use SATCOM antennas to transmit and receive via a number of networks, such as Iridium and Inmarsat. Some SATCOM antennas may also be able to receive GPS and GNSS signals for position, navigation and timing (PNT).

Pointing & Steering

SATCOM antennas may require a method of alignment with the satellite in order to ensure maximal signal strength. These two main methods are mechanical steering and electronic steering.

Iridium SATCOM & GPS L1 Antenna by Southwest Antennas

Iridium SATCOM & GPS L1 Antenna by Southwest Antennas

Mechanically steered antennas use a physical system to keep the antenna pointed at the satellite, and may be simpler and less expensive.

Electronically steered antennas (ESA), also known as phased array antennas, use a process known as beamforming to adjust the antenna radiation pattern in order to create a high-gain directional beam. These antennas are extremely fast and precise in tracking satellites, but are typically more expensive and require sophisticated signal processing electronics.

Omnidirectional SATCOM antennas that do not require any method of pointing or steering are also used in some applications.

Airborne SATCOM Antennas for UAV

SATCOM antennas for drones may need to be rugged in order to withstand challenging airborne conditions. They may be designed with certain levels of ingress protection against water and dust, as well as with enhanced shock and vibration resistance that allow them to withstand hard landings, impacts, high-speed flight maneuvers, and high levels of turbulence. They may also utilize aerodynamic designs such as flat panel form factors in order to minimize drag on the UAV.