GaN in space: unlocking efficiency and performance in satellite systems

Yole Intelligence’s technology and market analysts Taha Ayari and Aymen Ghorbel explain how New Space has become a focal point for GaN adoption – an article written by Maurizio di Paulo with the collaboration of Taha Ayari and Aymen Ghorbel from Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group, for EE TIMES Europe.

The space industry is undergoing a transformative shift to “New Space,” driven by the increasing demand for ubiquitous connectivity and the emergence of innovative business models. One of the key elements of this transformation is the adoption of gallium nitride (GaN) technology in space applications. GaN holds immense potential due to its impressive radiation hardness, high system efficiency and lightweight characteristics.

In a discussion with EE Times Europe, Taha Ayari and Aymen Ghorbel, Technology and Market Analysts at Yole Intelligence, part of Yole Group, explained how New Space—the low Earth orbit (LEO) mission segment, with a typical satellite lifespan of three to five years and lower reliability requirements—has become a focal point for GaN adoption. As a result, power GaN devices are being adopted for various satellite systems, including DC/DC converters, point-of-load systems, motor drives and ion thrusters.

The space market for power GaN devices is expected to exceed US$28 million by 2028, with a 26% CAGR from 2022 to 2028, according to Yole Intelligence’s Power GaN 2023 report. “As of 2023, the power GaN market for space applications is dominated by non-EU players, such as U.S.-based EPC Space and Canada’s GaN Systems [which, in March 2023, accepted an offer to be acquired by Infineon],” Ayari and Ghorbel said. “GaN Systems is partnering with Teledyne to provide space-grade products. For the EU, it is mainly the satellite and system makers, such as Airbus and Thales Alenia, that are actively working on power GaN projects. As of 2023, there is no European power GaN device supplier for the space industry.”

In parallel, satellite communication has emerged as a significant market for radio-frequency (RF) GaN technology. This segment is expected to reach a market size of US$270 million by 2028, with a substantial CAGR of 18% from 2022 to 2028, according to Yole Intelligence’s RF GaN 2023 report. RF GaN power amplifiers (PAs) have become instrumental in enabling higher data throughput, reducing antenna size, increasing bandwidth and enhancing overall efficiency in satellite communication.

Transitioning from traditional L/C/X bands to higher frequency Ku/Ka bands has allowed for higher data rates in mobile satellite communication. While traveling-wave–tube technology has dominated this space historically, it is limited by its bulkiness and reliability. Solid-state power amplifiers (SSPAs) based on gallium arsenide (GaAs) are gaining attention for low-power and lightweight satellite systems but come with limitations in efficiency and bandwidth compared with GaN.

GaN PAs offer numerous advantages over GaAs SSPAs, making them an attractive choice for a wide range of applications, including geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) high-throughput satellites, New Space initiatives, LEO missions and Earth observation, especially at higher frequencies…

Read the full story here.

Source: EE TIMES Europe.