Software Defined Radios (SDRs) for Space

Apr 5, 2023

As space missions become increasingly complex, the need for reliable and flexible communication systems is becoming more and more critical. This is where Software Defined Radios (SDRs) come in. SDRs provide a new level of flexibility and adaptability for communication systems in space, offering numerous benefits over traditional hardware-based radios. In this article, we will discuss how SDRs are used in both satellite deployments and ground stations, highlighting the specific needs of each application. Additionally, we will explore the benefits that SDRs bring to the space industry and the specifications to consider when selecting an SDR for space applications.

SDRs are radio communication systems where software controls the signal processing instead of dedicated hardware circuits. This allows for greater flexibility in terms of reconfigurability, scalability, and adaptability to various communication needs. SDRs are being increasingly adopted for space applications, both in satellites and ground stations, due to their numerous benefits over traditional hardware-based radios. A software defined radio (SDR) typically consists of two main components: a digital signal processing (DSP) unit and a radio frequency (RF) front-end. The DSP unit is responsible for processing the signals received by the RF front-end and for generating the signals to be transmitted. The DSP unit can be programmed to handle various modulation schemes and communication protocols, which enables the SDR to be reconfigured for different communication scenarios. The RF front-end includes the components that convert the analog radio signals to digital signals that can be processed by the DSP unit, such as mixers, filters, and amplifiers. SDRs may also include additional components, such as frequency synthesizers, to provide the necessary functionality for specific applications. The ability to reconfigure the DSP unit and the flexibility of the RF front-end are what give SDRs their unique advantage over traditional hardware-based radios.

SDRs are commonly used in satellite deployments as they offer a modular design that is suitable for small size, weight, and power (SWaP) constraints. This means that the radio can be easily integrated into the satellite's overall architecture and allows for flexible communication capabilities both to the ground and between satellites. SDRs can also support multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) operation, which enables a higher throughput of data to be transmitted simultaneously over multiple antennas.

Ground stations, on the other hand, require high channel counts to connect to multiple satellites concurrently. SDRs offer a high degree of channel flexibility, allowing for rapid switching between different satellites and frequencies. Additionally, ground stations need to send and receive a large amount of data over a narrow window when the satellite is in line with the ground station. SDRs can handle high bandwidths, which enables them to transmit and receive a large amount of data over short periods of time. SDRs can also be designed in a rack-mountable form factor, allowing them to fit into existing infrastructure in ground stations. Furthermore, SDRs can be easily integrated with other equipment for storing and/or sending data.

The benefits that SDRs bring to the space industry are numerous. One major benefit is their flexibility and scalability. SDRs can be reprogrammed to operate on different frequencies and modulation schemes, making them adaptable to different communication scenarios. They can also be reconfigured to support various waveforms, which enables them to handle different communication protocols. SDRs can be easily upgraded by changing the software, instead of replacing hardware components, which saves both time and money.

Another benefit of SDRs is their ability to operate over a wide tuning range. This means that they can handle different frequency bands, from low frequency to ultra high frequencies and beyond. Additionally, SDRs can offer a higher channel count than traditional hardware-based radios, which enables them to handle multiple communication streams simultaneously.

When choosing an SDR for space applications, there are several specifications to consider. These include channel count, form factor, bandwidth, tuning range, and power consumption. The channel count should be sufficient to handle the required number of communication streams. The form factor should be compact or able to be modified to withstand the harsh space environment. The bandwidth should be high enough to handle the data rates required for the mission. The tuning range should be wide enough to cover the desired frequency bands. Finally, power consumption should be low to minimize the burden on the satellite's power system.

In conclusion, SDRs are an ideal choice for space applications due to their flexibility, scalability, and adaptability. They can be used in both satellite deployments and ground stations to meet the communication needs of space missions. The benefits of SDRs over traditional hardware-based radios include reconfigurability, scalability, and adaptability, making them an attractive option for future space missions.

Per Vices has extensive experience in designing, developing, building, and integrating into satellites and ground stations along with various other applications.

Click here to contact Per Vices.

Click here to learn more about Software Defined Radio products on SatNow.


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Space Missions - A list of all Space Missions


Name Date
Altius 01 May, 2025
AWS 01 Mar, 2024
Eutelsat Quantum 30 Jul, 2021
Sentinel 6 21 Nov, 2020
Cheops 18 Dec, 2019
EDRS 06 Aug, 2019
Small Geostationary Satellite 17 Nov, 2018
BepiColombo 20 Oct, 2018
Aeolus 22 Aug, 2018
Sentinel 3B 25 Apr, 2018


Name Date
EOS-2 07 Aug, 2022
EOS-4 14 Feb, 2022
EOS-3 12 Aug, 2021
EOS-1 07 Nov, 2020
RISAT-2BR1 11 Dec, 2019
Cartosat-3 27 Nov, 2019
Chandrayaan II 06 Sep, 2019
RISAT-2B 22 May, 2019
Resourcesat-2A 07 Dec, 2016
AstroSat 28 Sep, 2015


Name Date
NEO Surveyor 01 Jun, 2028
Libera 01 Dec, 2027
Europa Clipper 10 Oct, 2024
SpaceX CRS-29 09 Nov, 2023
Psyche 13 Oct, 2023
DSOC 13 Oct, 2023
Psyche Asteroid 05 Oct, 2023
Expedition 70 27 Sep, 2023
SpaceX Crew-7 25 Aug, 2023
STARLING 18 Jul, 2023