NICE AND EASY: What is a radome?

It’s the outside shell of an antenna. The big plastic gumdrop you see in the picture is a satellite dish for marine use. It’s got a lot of moving parts to help it aim itself automatically and keep a good aim while on the high seas. It’s covered in a plastic dome to keep the elements away from parts that could short out or corrode if they get wet.

Where does the word come from?

Apparently the word comes from a mashup of radar and dome, which tells you a little bit about its history. Military radomes do more than just protect the dish inside; they keep prying eyes from telling what the dish is pointing at. You can still see radomes on large military ships today. The term is used most often for the covers over motorized dish-style antennas.

Which antennas have radomes?

Of course civilian radomes are far less insidious. Generally antennas only use radomes when there’s a dish with moving parts that needs to be protected. In most cases the components of a dish are waterproof enough that there isn’t a problem with the elements, but when you throw salt water into the mix it gets to be a little dicey.

Radomes are often white in color but they don’t have to be. The only thing that’s important is that they are totally transparent to the frequencies they pick up, and sometimes that means they can be any color, even black, if the coloring agents respond differently to RF than they do to visible light.

Not just for dish antennas

Sometimes, antennas have radomes as well. Our Televes and Antop antennas are both covered in sleek-looking plastic. It’s not just for show, at least not in the Televes models – there’s a powerful amplifier and delicate components in there that could be easily damaged by a storm. So, a weather-tight enclosure covers it.  The enclosure doesn’t affect the antenna’s ability to perform.

Still, as useful as radomes are, there’s definitely an appearance factor at play. Those sexy-looking plastic coverings give any antenna a more modern appearance, and if that helps sell them, well at that point everyone wins.

You can even buy an empty radome

Jake Buckler even pointed out that you can buy radomes with nothing in them. People do this for cosmetic reasons and to help balance the weight of a ship. You can’t really do the same for land-based radomes, but there isn’t anything stopping you from adapting an antenna’s radome to a different use if you’re not going to use it as an antenna.

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About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.