Trends in the Satellite Industry: 2018 Satellite Conference Review

ACT has been attending the Satellite Conference in Washington DC for numerous years and it’s always an exciting event for us to get a chance to see current and potential customers, as well as hear insights from those companies and people driving innovation in this market. It’s truly a unique conference as satellite operators, satellite manufacturers and ground support equipment manufacturers are all present and working together to drive transformative technology. It’s no surprise that the global satellite market continues to grow at a healthy clip.

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I’d like to thank all our customers who were able to meet with us during the conference and all those new contacts who stopped by our booth. There were a lot of very interesting applications from GEO, LEO spacecraft to small and large ground antenna systems. From those who talked with us at our booth and from interviewing other exhibiting companies, the two most common thermal challenges that were brought to our attention were the desire for better heat transfer for smallsats and rugged heat sinks for terrestrial receiver equipment.


Small Satellites
CubeSats, SmallSats, MicroSats and other small form factor satellites, typically operate in low-earth orbit (LEO) and provide a variety of capabilities to the operators including communications and imaging. This segment of the industry is growing rapidly due to new entrants and decreasing costs related to launch satellites to orbit. Since these systems tend to be lower cost, shorter life satellites, thermal management must also follow a lower cost model. Most commonly, these satellites utilize the core structure as the radiator surface. The thermal challenge is to get the heat to this surface at the lowest delta T and spread along this surface to increase radiator efficiency. Another challenge is to maintain a low design. For these reasons, localized point to point heat transfer devices such as copper-water heat pipes and Phase Change Material (PCM) heat sinks or embedded radiators (for duty cycle operation) were hot topics.
Read Related Case Study: Copper-water Heat Pipes and Hik Plates for Spacecraft Applications 

Ground Antenna Equipment
Equal to the innovation challenge were the companies demonstrating ground support hardware. These technologies and products varied in size from handheld devices to receiver dishes that took up entire 20’ x 20’ booths. There was a lot of innovative design in small antenna systems in terms of packaging and miniaturization and with large receivers in automated movement and quick breakdown and storage. The one common thermal challenge was the need for a rugged heat sink. Most systems had rather large, thick finned heat sinks with some type of environmental coating such as a powder coat. When we walked around and asked the ground equipment manufacturers about their thermal challenges the biggest needs were portability, durability and higher power in smaller packages. The conversations lead to the design of getting more efficiency with better heat spreading. ACT’s HiK™ product line got a lot of interest- by strategically placing heat pipes in the heat sink base to isothermalize, many times you can meet the same thermal performance with lower volume and mass or increase power within the existing footprint.
Read Related Case Study: HiK Plates to Improve Size, Weight and Power 

Thanks again to the organizers of the Satellite 2018 Conference, our great customers and those who visited us at our booth. See you next year!

by Bryan Muzyka, Sales Manager