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Radio Wave Propagation
4.1 Introduction A signal traveling between an earth station and a satellite must pass through the earths atmosphere, including the ionosphere, as shown in Fig. 4.1, and this can introduce certain impairments, which are summarized in Table 4.1. Some of the more important of these impairments will be described in this chapter. 4.2 Atmospheric Losses Losses occur in the earths atmosphere as a result of energy absorption by the atmospheric gases. These losses are treated quite separately from those which result from adverse weather conditions, which of course are also atmospheric losses. To distinguish between these, the weather-related losses are referred to as atmospheric attenuation and the absorption losses simply as atmospheric absorption. The atmospheric absorption loss varies with frequency, as shown in Fig. 4.2. The figure is based on statistical data (CCIR Report 719-1, 1982). Two absorption peaks will be observed, the first one at a frequency of 22.3 GHz, resulting from resonance absorption in water vapor (H2O), and the second one at 60 GHz, resulting from resonance absorption in oxygen (O2). However, at frequencies well clear of these peaks, the absorption is quite low. The graph in Fig. 4.2 is for vertical incidence, that is, for an elevation angle of 90 at the earth-station antenna. Denoting this value of absorption loss as [AA]90 decibels, then for elevation angles down to 10, an approximate formula for the absorption loss in decibels is (CCIR Report 719-1, 1982) [AA] [AA]90 cosecEl (4.1)


Chapter Four

Free space 600

500 Approximate heights, km


300 Ionosphere 200

100 90 Troposphere Earths surface

Figure 4.1

Ice layer rain

Layers in the earths atmosphere.

where El is the angle of elevation. An effect known as atmospheric scintillation can also occur. This is a fading phenomenon, the fading period being several tens of seconds (Miya, 1981). It is caused by differences in the atmospheric refractive index, which in turn results in focusing and defocusing of the radio waves, which follow different ray paths through the atmosphere. It may be necessary to make an allowance for atmospheric scintillation, through the introduction of a fade margin in the link power-budget calculations. 4.3 Ionospheric Effects Radio waves traveling between satellites and earth stations must pass through the ionosphere. The ionosphere is the upper region of the earths atmosphere, which has been ionized, mainly by solar radiation. The

Radio Wave Propagation



Propagation Concerns for Satellite Communications Systems Physical cause Atmospheric gases, cloud, rain Prime importance Frequencies above about 10 GHz

Propagation impairment Attenuation and sky noise increases

Signal depolarization

Rain, ice crystals

Refraction, atmospheric multipath Signal scintillations

Atmospheric gases Tropospheric and ionospheric refractivity fluctuations

Communication and tracking at low elevation angles Tropospheric at frequencies above 10 GHz and low-elevation angles; ionospheric at frequencies below 10 GHz

Dual-polarization systems at C and Ku bands (depends on system configuration)

Reflection multipath, blockage Propagation delays, variations

Troposphere, ionosphere

Earths surface, objects on surface

Mobile satellite services

Intersystem interference

Ducting, scatter, diffraction

Precise timing and location systems; time division multiple access (TDMA) systems Mainly C band at present; rain scatter may be significant at higher frequencies


Brussard and Rogers, 1990.

free electrons in the ionosphere are not uniformly distributed but form in layers. Furthermore, clouds of electrons (known as traveling ionospheric disturbances) may travel through the ionosphere and give rise to fluctuations in the signal that can only be determined on a statistical basis. The effects include scintillation, absorption, variation in the direction of arrival, propagation delay, dispersion, frequency change, and polarization rotation (CCIR Report 263-5, 1982). All these effects decrease as frequency increases, most in inverse proportion to the frequency squared, and only the polarization rotation and scintillation effects are of major concern for satellite communications. Polarization rotation is described in Sec. 5.5. Ionospheric scintillations are variations in the amplitude, phase, polarization, or angle of arrival of radio waves. They are caused by irregularities in the ionosphere which change with time. The main effect of scintillations is fading of the signal. The fades can be quite severe, and they may last up to several minutes. As with fading caused by atmospheric scintillations, it may be necessary to include a fade margin in the link power-budget calculations to allow for ionospheric scintillation.


Chapter Four

Total zenith attenuation at ground level: pressure 1 atm, temperature 20 C, and water vapor 7.5 g/m3 . (Adapted from CCIR Report 719-2, with permission from International Telecommunication Union.)
Figure 4.2

4.4 Rain Attenuation Rain attenuation is a function of rain rate. By rain rate is meant the rate at which rainwater would accumulate in a rain gauge situated at the ground in the region of interest (e.g., at an earth station). In calculations relating to radio wave attenuation, the rain rate is measured in millimeters per hour. Of interest is the percentage of time that specified values are exceeded. The time percentage is usually that of a year; for example, a rain rate of 0.001 percent means that the rain rate would be exceeded for 0.001 percent of a year, or about 5.3 min during any one year. In this case the rain rate would be denoted by R0.001. In general,

Radio Wave Propagation


the percentage time is denoted by p and the rain rate by Rp. The specific attenuation is aRb p dB/km (4.2)

where a and b depend on frequency and polarization. Values for a and b are available in tabular form in a number of publications. The values in Table 4.2 have been abstracted from Table 4.3 of Ippolito (1986). The subscripts h and v refer to horizontal and vertical polarizations respectively. Once the specific attenuation is found, the total attenuation is determined as L dB (4.3) where L is the effective path length of the signal through the rain. Because the rain density is unlikely to be uniform over the actual path length, an effective path length must be used rather than the actual (geometric) length. Figure 4.3 shows the geometry of the situation. The geometric, or slant, path length is shown as LS. This depends on the antenna angle of elevation and the rain height hR, which is the height at which freezing occurs. Figure 4.4 shows curves for hR for different climatic zones. In this figure, three methods are labeled: Method 1 maritime climates; Method 2tropical climates; Method 3continental climates. For the last, curves are shown for p values of 0.001, 0.01, 0.1, and 1 percent. For small angles of elevation (El 10), the determination of LS is complicated by earth curvature (see CCIR Report 564-2, 1982). However,


Specic Attenuation Coefcients ah 0.0000387 0.000154 0.00065 0.00175 0.00301 0.00454 0.0101 0.0188 0.0367 0.0751 0.124 0.187
Ippolito, 1986, p. 46.

Frequency, GHz 1 2 4 6 7 8 10 12 15 20 25 30

av 0.0000352 0.000138 0.000591 0.00155 0.00265 0.00395 0.00887 0.0168 0.0335 0.0691 0.113 0.167

bh 0.912 0.963 1.121 1.308 1.332 1.327 1.276 1.217 1.154 1.099 1.061 1.021

bv 0.88 0.923 1.075 1.265 1.312 1.31 1.264 1.2 1.128 1.065 1.03 1


Chapter Four


Reduction Factors r0.001 5 r0.01 5 r0.1 5 10 LG 90 10

For p 0.001% For p 0.01% For p 0.1% For p 1%


90 4LG 180

r1 1

180 LG

Ippolito, 1986.


LS Rain hR El h0 LG

Figure 4.3

Path length through rain.

Rain height as a function of earth-station latitude for different climatic zones.

Figure 4.4

Radio Wave Propagation


for El 10 a flat earth approximation may be used, and from Fig. 4.3 it is seen that LS 5 hR h0 sin El (4.4)

The effective path length is given in terms of the slant length by L LSrp (4.5)

where rp is a reduction factor which is a function of the percentage time p and LG, the horizontal projection of LS. From Fig. 4.3 the horizontal projection is seen to be LG LS cos El (4.6)

The reduction factors are given in Table 4.3. With all these factors together into one equation, the rain attenuation in decibels is given by Ap aRb p LSrp dB (4.7)

Interpolation formulas which depend on the climatic zone being considered are available for values of p other than those quoted earlier (see, e.g., Ippolito, 1986). Polarization shifts resulting from rain are described in Sec. 5.6.
Example 4.1 Calculate, for a frequency of 12 GHz and for horizontal and verti-

cal polarizations, the rain attenuation which is exceeded for 0.01 percent of the time in any year, for a point rain rate of 10 mm/h. The earth station altitude is 600 m, and the antenna elevation angle is 50. The rain height is 3 km.

Solution The given data follows. Because the CCIR formula contains hidden conversion factors, units will not be attached to the data, and it is understood that all lengths and heights are in kilometers, and rain rate is in millimeters per hour.

El 50; h0 0.6; hr 3; R01 10 From Eq. (4.4): LS 5 hR h0 3 0.6 sin 50 sin El

3.133 km


Chapter Four

From Eq. (4.6): LG LS cos El 3.133 cos 50

2.014 km From Table 4.3, the reduction factor is r01 5


90 4LG


For horizontal polarization, from Table 3.2 at f 12 GHz; ah 0.0188; bh 1.217 From Eq. (4.7): Ap ahR01h LSr01

0.0188 10 0.891 dB


3.133 0.9178

For vertical polarization, from Table 3.2 at f 12 GHz; av 0.0168; bv 1.2 Ap avR01h LSr01

0.0168 101.2 3.133 0.9178 0.766 dB

The corresponding equations for circular polarization are ac 5 bc 5 2 ahbh avbv 2 ac ah a v (4.8a) (4.8b)

The attenuation for circular polarization is compared with that for linear polarization in the following example.
Example 4.2 Repeat Example 4.1 for circular polarization.

From Eq. (4.8a): ac 5

ah a v 0.0188 0.0168 2 2


Radio Wave Propagation


From Eq. (4.8b): bc 5 ahbh avbv 0.0188 1.217 0.0168 1.2 2 0.0178 2a c

1.209 From Eq. (4.7):

bc Ap acR01 LSr01

0.828 dB

0.0178 101.209 3.133 0.9178

4.5 Other Propagation Impairments Hail, ice, and snow have little effect on attenuation because of the low water content. Ice can cause depolarization, described briefly in Chap. 5. The attenuation resulting from clouds can be calculated as that for rain (Ippolito, 1986, p. 56), although the attenuation is generally much less. For example, at a frequency of 10 GHz and a water content of 0.25 g/m3, the specific attenuation is about 0.05 dB/km and about 0.2 dB/km for a water content of 2.5 g/m3.

4.6 Problems and Exercises

4.1. With reference to Table 4.1, identify the propagation impairments which most affect transmission in the C band. 4.2. Repeat Prob. 4.1 for Ku-band transmissions.

4.3. Calculate the approximate value of atmospheric attenuation for a satellite transmission at 14 GHz, for which the angle of elevation of the earth-station antenna is 15. 4.4. Calculate the approximate value of atmospheric attenuation for a satellite transmission at 6 GHz, for which the angle of elevation of the earth-station antenna is 30. 4.5. Describe the major effects the ionosphere has on the transmission of satellite signals at frequencies of (a) 4 GHz and (b) 12 GHz.