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Kymeta Brings Meta Materials to Satellite Antennas

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

April 19, 2013

Kymeta Brings Meta Materials to Satellite Antennas

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Kymeta Corporation has made a big splash in the satellite industry."Disruptive" is too often misused, but it is fair to say the spin-out has a lot of people looking forward to its new antenna technology.

"A lot of people have talked about us," said Kymeta CEO Vern Fotheringham. "We're very pleased with the introduction to the broader community. We only put out one press release [in March] before [Satellite 2013]."

Kymeta is a spinout from Seattle-based Intellectual Ventures (News - Alert), the "Invention capital" company buying, licensing and investing in new ideas. Intellectual Ventures was founded by former Microsoft (News - Alert) chief strategist and chief technical officer, Nathan Myhrvold, and has 70,000 IP (intellectual property) assets it acquired.

Intellectual Ventures invented and refined the Metamaterials Surface Antenna Technology (MSA-T) and formed Kymeta in August 2012 to create "game-changing" satellite user terminal products.  

Investors in the company include Microsoft founder Bill Gates (News - Alert) and Lux Capital.

Metamaterials are assemblies of specially organized structures that deliver unusual physical properties, enabling the manipulation of electromagnetic fields in a way that can't be done with natural materials. The field is best known for proving you can build an invisibility cloak, like Star Trek's cloaking device or Harry Potter's magical cloak.

Applied to satellite antennas, metamaterials can make smaller, more energy-efficient designs.

Kymeta has an exclusive license to apply MSA-T to the satellite world, including 107 patents in the Intellectual Ventures portfolio.

"Flat panel tech abounds, but ones with no moving parts using software-defined beam-steering, beam-forming are few and far between." Fotheringham said. "So far we seem to be the only guys that have cracked the code at a price/performance with a promise of taking these technologies all the way down into the consumer electronics markets."

The basic technologies exist to create a low-cost metamaterials antenna exists today. "There's no reliance on unobtainium or other magic that doesn't exist yet," Fotheringham stated.

Kymeta already has one customer on the books already. Inmarsat (News - Alert) is paying for accelerated development of a light-weight, flat-panel Ka-band antenna for business jets. The Kymeta Aero Antenna will be exclusive to Inmarsat's Global Xpress (GX) service, with the antenna able to electronically steer an uplink antenna beam without requiring phase shifters or mechanically moving parts. 

Beyond that, Kymeta is working on a portable Ka-band satellite terminal for the consumer market, with the device available to numerous markets and distributors around the world. It will include a Wi-Fi router and use an app to connect with an onboard home page for pointing it to a Ka-band service, with a completed data link established in under a minute. The consumer device receive elements can be powered over a USB connection using a few watts – a dramatic difference to existing phased array antennas requiring kilowatts of power for beamforming.

Prototypes for the Aero Antenna will be handed over to a system integrator in January 2015. The roadmap for the portable consumer Ka-band antenna put prototypes out in 2014 with general retail availability in Q1 2105.

Longer-term projects include modules for mobile platform solutions by OEMs and fixed terminal solutions. In the far future, Kymeta antennas may show up in orbit onboard satellites and manned platforms, tapping into medium earth orbit (MEO) services like Ob3 as well as the numerous geosynchronous Ka-band services in service today.

Edited by Braden Becker

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