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TECHNICAL

SATCOM:
Taming the Beast
B Y T O N Y B A I L E Y

veryone has heard about high receives data from the selected station- The SATCOM system uses aircraft

E speed datasatellite commu-


nications have been evolving
at breakneck speeds. Data and voice
ary satellite. The Honeywell SAT-
COM system and the Rockwell
Collins SATCOM SAT-906 system
supplied navigational position data to
electronically or mechanically steer
the antenna so it can orient itself
transmissions are accelerating beyond utilize a High-Power Amplifier (HPA) toward the satellite in use. As the air-
comprehension. However, it had to to amplify the outbound signal while craft moves out of the optimum com-
start somewhere and most high speed the received signals are routed to the munication position with one satellite,
data upgrades are based on existing Satellite Data Unit (SDU) or optional the SATCOM automatically switches
SATCOM systems installed in the air- Radio Frequency Unit (RFU) for pro- to the next best satellite.
craft. Honeywells MCS-3000/6000 cessing. The Rockwell Collins SAT- The communication management
Multi-Channel Aviation Satellite COM 5000/6000 system utilizes just assembly is designed to interface the
Communications System, Rockwell the SRT-2000 Satellite Receiver/ user with SATCOM subsystems and
Collins SATCOM SAT-906 Satellite Transmitter (SRT) for similar func- their devices, either automatically, or
Communications System, or the tions. by manually selecting communication
Rockwell Collins SATCOM The SDU and SRT also contain the options. When necessary, visual
5000/6000 Satellite Communications Owners Requirement Table (ORT) and/or audio messages annunciate
System are three examples. and Aircraft System Table (AST) SATCOM system status and actions
The basic design of airborne SAT- which stores specific aircraft and oper- depending on the system.
COM systems consist of three seg- ational data such as speed dialing of International telephone companies
ments or links: the satellites, the telephone numbers, selections of pre- are the earth-based communication
Aircraft Earth Station (AES), and the ferred GESs, audio interface charac- link that establishes worldwide infor-
Ground Earth Station (GES) compris- teristics, satellite identification, fre- mation exchange. The telephone sys-
ing of equipment used to facilitate a quencies of channels, spot beam iden- tem services use control and display
satellite based, two-way L band com- tification, GES identification, GES features of many communication
munication link between the satellite spot beam support table, and satellite devices for two-way communication.
and the aircraft, and between the satel- location. SATCOM uses satellite communica-
lite and a ground station. Once con- tion that the telephone company net-
nected to the ground station, the work supplies to make its connec-
exchange of information is transferred tions. However, a satellite ground
through normal telephone connec- earth station is used to establish com-
tions. SATCOM extends the flow of munications to one of the
earth-based information to any aircraft INMARSAT geostationary satellites
located almost anywhere in the world. while the aircraft is airborne. The
The aircraft can use an array of satellite relays information to the
telecommunication devices, the same SATCOM equipment in the aircraft.
way they can be used on earth. Once the satellite connection is estab-
After establishing a connection with lished, the airborne communication
the satellite, the antenna transmits and SDCU devices can communicate with the

50 AVIONICS NEWS DECEMBER 2003


earth, using the earth-based telephone systems of the past to the new high only a 0.1-inch lateral movement and
company services. speed data systems evolving every only a 0.2-inch vertical movement is
The aircraft SATCOM systems in day. possible. If you see Mr. Hairy
their basic design are capable of voice Usually, SATCOM installations Knuckles using excessive side-to-
and data transmissions allowing the have some combination of cockpit and side or up and down motion to disen-
user to communicate throughout the cabin mounted control devices includ- gage the unit, make sure he learns the
flight. The aircraft even has its own ing switches and annunciators. Typical trick of holding a charged capacitor
telephone number, just like your home annunciations include power indica- on his tongue.
phone or cellular phone. However, tion and channel selection.
with the large array of communication For most applications, the SAT-
devices that can be used with an air- COM system can be controlled from
borne system, the aircraft communica- the handset, which would normally be
tion network needs a switching device used only as a voice telephone.
to connect the SATCOM to other com- However, this is not your mothers
munication devices. The switching telephone and it just might be equal to
device can be as simple as a switch or something James Bond would use.
as complex as a Private Automatic The telephone or CMU (Communica-
Branch Exchange (PABX). tions Management Unit) keyboard can
The operator uses various communi- be used to modify some SATCOM
cation devices to select, control and system management settings and the
display the type or quantity of informa- earpiece emits voice communication
tion to be communicated. The extent of status messages and standard dial tone
the control and display information signals. The telephone keypad can also
depends on the device. The SATCOM be used to change the SATCOMs
system connects and processes all installation selected options.
information in a digital format. The The Honeywell MCS-3000/6000
SATCOM Rack Assembly.
Honeywell MCS-3000 SDU contains and the Rockwell Collins SATCOM
two voice channels and one data chan- 5000/6000 systems are similar in form Most SATCOM units go through a
nel while the Honeywell MCS-6000 and function so troubleshooting fol- self-test during start-up and display
and the Rockwell Collins SAT-906 lows the same basic principals. the results of the most recent self-
have six channels available. The Traditionally, avionics troubleshoot- test. At anytime during operation, a
optional RFU adds three additional ing was confined to power, ground, self-test can be initiated by pushing
voice channels. The Rockwell Collins and the last person who worked on it the self-test button for more than
SRT contains six channels (one packet when you were trying to isolate prob- three seconds if one of the following
mode data plus five others or one data lems. Some of that still holds true, like on-ground criterions is met: Both
and four voice channels depending the last guy theory. The Rockwell Weight-On-Wheels (WOW) dis-
upon the model). Voice channels are Collins SRT is a perfect example of cretes indicate on-ground; IRS data
used for voice, FAX, cockpit, and other that. If the last guy had difficulty rais- indicates a ground speed of less than
communications. The data channels ing his monkey-like knuckles off the 40 knots; and neither IRS input is
interface with ISO-8208 compatible ground and damaged the ARINC 600 presenting valid data, but strapping
data equipment and transmit Aircraft size II and size III connectors for the indicates that at least one IRS is
Communications, Addressing and ARINC 600 avionics equipment, all installed.
Reporting Systems (ACARS) and kinds of problems will pop up. The From the SATCOM main menu on
AFIS information. ARINC 600-7 specification, which is the Rockwell Collins SRT, the CDU
These devices can include phone the governing document for these con- BITE STATUS page can be accessed
handsets, FAX machines, or personal nectors, requires that an extractor for the current status. General defini-
computing devices. Of course, there is mechanism be used to aid in disen- tions of reported statuses on the
a huge difference in communication gagement. It also requires a frame- BITE STATUS pages are as follows:
speeds when comparing the SATCOM work be used in the aircraft so that Continued on following page

AVIONICS NEWS DECEMBER 2003 51


Acronym Description
SATCOM Satellite Communications
SRT Satellite Receiver/Transmitter
SATCOM: TAMING THE BEAST CDU Control Display Unit
Continued from page 51
ACARS Aircraft Communications, Addressing
OK and Reporting Systems
The LRU reports it is ready for normal RFU Radio Frequency Unit
operation.
PABX Private Automatic Branch Exchange
FAULT AST Aircraft System Table
The LRU is reporting an abnormal ORT Owners Requirement Table
condition. AES Aircraft Earth Station
GES Ground Earth Station
NO DATA HPA High-Power Amplifier
The LRU reports an SSM of NCD (No
SDU Satellite Data Unit
Computed Data).
WOW Weight-On-Wheels
INACTIVE INMARSAT International Maritime Satellite Organization
The data bus input from the LRU to CMU Communications Management Unit
the SRT is dead. DTMF Dual Tone Multiple Frequency
LRU Line Replaceable Unit
TEST BSU Beam Steering Unit
The LRU is in test.

NONE Entering *62# plays the system con-


The SRT-2000 is not strapped to figuration message. When the user
enable this LRU. enters this command, the following
message groups will be heard: All X
This is a key page to troubleshoot- of Y channel modules installed are
ing the SATCOM system as it gives a available, Hardware part number is
general condition of system health. XXX-XXXX-XXX, Software part
Utilizing the different menu screens number is XXX-XXXX-XXX. If an
and item selections can access further owner requirements table (ORT) is
SATCOM Screen
diagnostics. To access current fault installed, the ORT part number will be
information on the Rockwell Collins messages can be accessed from a heard. If no ORT has been installed,
SATCOM systems, enter 64# from the DTMF (Dual Tone Multiple no message at all will be heard.
handset of any telephone connected to Frequency) interface device that is For fault code access, enter *64#.
the SATCOM analog port and listen. connected to either SDU analog chan- For each failure a different fault code
The SATCOM system will report one nel 1 or analog channel 2. The DTMF will be heard. The fault codes can indi-
of the following audio messages: device can be a TCU-906, WH-10, cate: (1) that one or more of the SAT-
a.) If the SATCOM system is in the and/or DTMF-compatible telephone COM LRUs has failed BITE tests, (2)
process of logging faults at startup, interface unit. an LRU is inactive on the ARINC 429
NOT AVAILABLE will be heard. To determine if status messages, digital bus, or (3) other conditions pre-
b.) If the SATCOM system has no configuration information, and fault vent the system from logging on.
current faults to report, 00 will be messages can be accessed from an air- For the Honeywell system, most
heard. craft telephone system, it is recom- failure messages are in plain language.
c.) If the SATCOM system has mended that maintenance personnel They are listed in the Honeywell SAT-
recorded current faults, the user will turn the SATCOM system on, identify COM Maintenance Manual. The sys-
hear fault code numbers. Refer to the a telephone or fax machine handset, tem displays a list of Honeywell LRU
Maintenance Manual to decode the and enter *61#. If voice messages are part numbers after the last failure mes-
reported fault(s). heard, SATCOM system status mes- sage. After the part numbers, the dis-
In some aircraft installations, SAT- sages, configuration information, and play lists ORT ID on two message
COM system status messages, config- current fault messages can be lines. This is the 24-character ORT
uration information, and current fault accessed. identification that is normally cus-

52 AVIONICS NEWS DECEMBER 2003


tomized when the SDU is installed.
This display also indicates if the ORT
has been modified.
Any time you work with an operat-
ing SATCOM system it is imperative
that the technician is aware that the
satellite communications system
antenna radiates intense microwave
energy. All personnel must maintain a
minimum distance of 20 feet (6
meters) from any SATCOM system
antenna during installation testing or
normal operation.
The antenna normally used for
SATCOM systems are full duplex
capable. Two types are used; single
top-mounted (fin mount) and dual
side-mounted (conformal mount).
Dual side-mounted antennas are
mounted on each side of the aircraft,
about 45 degrees from the horizon. Fin
mounted antennas such as the Ball
antenna are normally steered mechan-
ically while conformal mounted anten-
nas such as the EMS Technologies
AMT-50G antenna are steered electri-
cally. Electrically steered antennas uti-
lize a Beam Steering Unit (BSU) to
translate antenna beam position data
and beam change commands received
from the SDU into the signals required
to select antenna elements in combina-
tions that result in the beam pointing at
the desired satellite.
In the ever-evolving world of high
speed data, the complicated aircraft
satellite communications system can
be quite a beast for even the most
knowledgeable avionics technician to
tame. Hopefully these troubleshooting
tips will help you bring it back into
submission.

Reference: Honeywell Satellite


Communication System (SATCOM)
Operations Manual Pub. No. A28-1146-
103-00; Rockwell Collins SAT-906
Satellite Communications System
Installation Manual P/N 523-0778263;
and the Rockwell Collins 5000/6000
Satellite Communications System
Installation Manual P/N 523-0780286.

AVIONICS NEWS DECEMBER 2003 53