Air Force small business contract program delivers ultra-portable satellite communications system

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A national small business research program managed by Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is helping to revolutionize satellite communications (SATCOM) for the Department of Defense and several U.S. allied nations as well as disaster relief organizational around the world.  

Through a contract under the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, GATAR Technologies Inc., of Huntsville, Alabama, has developed and commercialized ultra-portable, inflatable stand-alone antenna systems that can be deployed more effectively, efficiently and quicker than traditional heavy, metal-support, trailer-mounted systems.

Working with AFRL and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center technical advisers and program managers, GATR's initial SBIR contract led to the development of a system that is deployable in two cases, each weighing less than 100 pounds.  Under a phase two SBIR research contract, GATR refined the inflatable SATCOM antenna concept into the man-portable 1.2-meter terminal. This entire SATCOM terminal weighs less than 60 pounds and can be folded-up and carried in a backpack.

Until GATR's development, U.S. military forces deployed with larger, heavier SATCOM antennas that caused a large logistics airlift burden.  Additionally, the heavier systems were not suited for quick deployment with U.S. special forces teams that are limited to transportation by small helicopters, HUMVEEs, pick-up trucks, or in backpacks to support operations in harsh terrain and environments. 

To date, more than 350 of the 2.4m aperture GATR terminals have been manufactured and delivered to selected units of all of the U.S. military services, other U.S. Government agencies, several allied nations' militaries, and to commercial disaster relief organizations.  More than 85 of the smaller, 1.2-meter systems are now in use by U.S. Special Operations forces.

For more information on the Air Force's SBIR/STTR programs, contact the Air Force SBIR/STTR Program Office at 1-800-222-0336, email info@afsbirsttr.com, or visit www.afsbirsttr.com.