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Comfort Uses New Technology And Extends Critical Communications

The USNS Comfort.
by Steven King
USNS Comfort Public Affairs
Manta, Ecuador (AFNS) Aug 22, 2007
A communications team from hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) used new satellite transmitting and receiving technology at the Angelica Flores School medical site Aug. 17. The Ground Antenna Transmit Receive (GATR) satellite antenna prototype made its Comfort mission debut in Ecuador as a key piece of equipment to keep lines of communication open between ship and the medical sites.

Six feet in diameter, the inflatable sphere resembles a large, gray beach ball rather than an antenna. The sphere can be deflated and disassembled to fit into two cases small enough to be checked as airport luggage.

Designed by GATR Technologies of Huntsville Ala., the prototype is currently being tested by the Navy Post Graduate School.

"This is the first time that the GATR has been used outside the United States, and actually the first time the antenna has primarily been used by a non-GATR employee," said David Hoffman, a Mission Aviation Fellowship contractor and operator of the GATR antenna.

It takes roughly one hour of set-up time to inflate, orient and anchor the antenna. Once the sphere has been inflated with an electric pump, it must be oriented with a compass, and then anchored with adjustable cables to ensure there is no movement to interrupt the connection.

"We're getting better at setting up the antenna," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Joseph Williford. "Today was our third time, and I think we've shaved some minutes off."

Due to GATR's sensitivity to movement, it cannot be used aboard Comfort and is primarily a land-based antenna.

"So far it's been great," Williford said. "The only hiccup that occurred was when some electricians installing ceiling fans turned off the power ... and the sphere started to deflate."

Comfort is currently on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean providing medical treatment in a dozen countries.

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Zhukovsky, Russia (AFP) Aug 21, 2007
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