MITRE Innovation Leaves an Indelible Mark on Global CommunicationsMarch 2021
Topics: Satellite Communications, Communications Technologies, Signal Processing, Wireless Communications, Military Operations (General), Systems Engineering
From technology in satellites, ships, and planes, to 5G, MITRE’s Frequency-scaled Ultra-wide Spectrum Element (FUSE™) antenna design offers potential reach across the global communications infrastructure. FUSE’s unprecedented capacity eliminates the need for multiple apertures for different technologies—saving time, effort, and money.
It started with just the seed of an idea. But against the odds, MITRE engineer Wajih Elsallal and his team turned his initial vision into a collaborative, multidisciplinary initiative.
Moreover, the team laid the foundation for next-generation wideband phased array antennas. Along the way, they published widely and earned six patents and R&D World’s top-100 recognition.
And the FUSE portfolio is expanding. Multiple Department of Defense agencies now consider it the gold standard for this technology. Under a volume technology license for commercial production, we’re delivering this capability for a wide variety of government and commercial applications.
Technical Creativity, Tenacious Commitment
FUSE began in 2013. Elsallal dreamed of creating an all-metallic wideband phased array antenna that would be easily scalable across the frequency spectrum. He explored options for pursuing his vision, but none panned out.
Soon after, drawn by our focus on serving the public, he joined MITRE.
Once on board, Elsallal approached his management about starting research for FUSE. Armed with a small grant from MITRE’s research program—and dedicating significant personal time over many months—he developed FUSE’s initial framework. He then convened a team of experts, including co-developer Jamie Hill.
Over a six-year journey, Elsallal and Hill took FUSE through several design variations, to patenting the technology, to building a prototype, to launching a proof-of-concept in space. Finally, they needed to find a company to manufacture it—which wasn’t easy.
“Jamie and I had great passion for the FUSE concept and its potential impact on global communications,” Elsallal says. “But no one was willing to accept the risk and build it for us.”
Still, the team persisted. Given the limitations of conventional manufacturing, they had to find a creative solution for FUSE’s design.
“Jamie came up with the secret recipe, blending four different manufacturing processes—including 3D printing—to realize our original design,” Elsallal adds.
Hill also performed extensive tests to prove the technology’s readiness for a satellite mission. After printing the first prototype and getting it into orbit, the team had solved at least one of our sponsors’ problems.
The Navy’s Integrated Topside Program needed one antenna with large bandwidth capacity. This would cover a host of shipboard technologies and eliminate interference caused by multiple standalone systems. FUSE became their performance benchmark, increasing innovation and commercial competition.
Discovering “The Gleam in Someone’s Eye”
Then, another roadblock: The company we’d originally partnered with for prototype production changed its business strategy—pulling out at the eleventh hour.
Elsallal and Hill remained undeterred. Working with MITRE’s Bridging Innovation Program, they began scouting for another vendor. Elsallal says the team’s success hinged not only on their persistence and collaboration across MITRE, but also on unwavering support from leadership.
“Imagine—we’d sold the idea of working with a startup to leadership, including our Board of Trustees. And at the last minute, that company withdrew. Despite this, MITRE still gave us an opportunity to push forward.”
“Our management believed in us, the team—not just the technology,” adds Hill.
But they still needed to find the right commercial manufacturer. Karen Viani of our Partnerships and Technology Transfer office explains how that process unfolded: “Through outreach, we identify and engage companies and ascertain their interest. We’re looking for energy around the idea—essentially, the gleam in someone’s eye.
"For FUSE, we took a holistic view of the industry. We wanted someone who would successfully design and manufacture this revolutionary technology, to ensure its broadest reach. You could see Optisys’ potential to continue advancing and inserting FUSE into a variety of applications—making them a perfect transition partner for FUSE.”
The agreement to license MITRE's intellectual property enables Optisys to apply unique FUSE designs to myriad applications, now and into the future, while MITRE retains ownership and government-use rights.
Optisys Chief Executive Officer Janos Opra anticipates a wide swath of opportunities ahead. “We’re looking to deploy FUSE to enhance capabilities for a broad set of applications. We’re pursuing the military audience, the space audience, and commercial customers. Everyone wants wideband comms—and FUSE can provide that capability.”
Engaging Industry to Broaden Impact
Not only has it set groundbreaking standards, FUSE also inspired related research and development of components within the end-to-end supporting systems.
“The spectrum is evolving rapidly,” Viani says. “What started with just us developing this capability has led to huge opportunities for expansion.
“FUSE is one piece. Then there are the electronics, the algorithms, and all the platforms in which we can integrate these components through partnerships with other entities. That’s where you get the best impact.”
For example, consider today’s ongoing competition for electromagnetic spectrum resources. We're partnering with Intel Corporation to accelerate game-changing wideband technology—integrating FUSE with Intel’s next-generation chip technology
FUSE also demonstrates how we enable our people to think creatively and take risks.
“Along the way, we push the future boundaries of technology innovation,” Viani adds. “This is how we both accelerate our sponsors’ missions and help technology find its way into the commercial world to deliver global impact.”
—by Denise Schiavone