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Issue 2: Applications

Advanced Shipboard Communications Demonstrations with ACTS

Roy A. Axford, Thomas C. Jedrey, Michael A. Rupar

Abstract | Full Paper (PDF, 189 KB)

For ships at sea, satellites provide the only option for high data rate (HDR), long haul communications. Furthermore the demand for HDR satellite communications (SATCOM) for military and commercial ships, and other offshore platforms is increasing. Presently the bulk of this maritime HDR SATCOM connectivity is provided via C-band and X-band. However, the shipboard antenna sizes required to achieve a data rate of, say T1 (1.544 Mbps) with present C-/X-band SATCOM systems range from seven to ten feet in diameter. This limits the classes of ships to which HDR services can be provided to those which are large enough to accommodate the massive antennas. With its high powered K/Ka-band spot beams, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS) was able to provide T1 and higher rate services to ships at sea using much smaller shipboard antennas. This paper discusses three shipboard HDR SATCOM demonstrations that were conducted with ACTS between 1996 and 1998.

The first demonstration involved a 2 Mbps link provided to the seismic survey ship M/V Geco Diamond equipped with a 16-inch wide, 4.5-inch tall, mechanically steered slotted waveguide array antenna developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In this February 1996 demonstration ACTS allowed supercomputers ashore to process Geco Diamond's voluminous oceanographic seismic data in near real time. This capability allowed the ship to adjust its search parameters on a daily basis based on feedback from the processed data, thereby greatly increasing survey efficiency.

The second demonstration was conducted on the US Navy cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) with the same antenna used on Geco Diamond. Princeton conducted a six-month (January-July 1997) Western Hemisphere solo deployment during which time T1 connectivity via ACTS provided the ship with a range of valuable tools for operational, administrative and quality-of-life tasks. In one instance, video teleconferencing (VTC) via ACTS allowed the ship to provide life-saving emergency medical aid, assisted by specialists ashore, to a fellow mariner - the Master of a Greek cargo ship.

The third demonstration set what is believed to be the all-time SATCOM data rate record to a ship at sea, 45 Mbps in October 1998. This Lake Michigan (Chicago area) demonstration employed one of ACTS' fixed beams and involved the smallest of the three vessels, the 45-foot Bayliner M/V Entropy equipped with a modified commercial-off-the-shelf one-meter antenna. A variety of multi-media services were provided to Entropy through a stressing range of sea states. These three demonstrations provided a preview of the capabilities that could be provided to future mariners on a more routine basis when K/Ka-band SATCOM systems are widely deployed.

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