Radomes can be constructed in several shapes (spherical, geodesic, planar, etc.) depending upon the particular application using various construction materials (fiberglass, PTFE-coated fabric, etc.). When used on UAVs or other aircraft, in addition to such protection, the radome also streamlines the antenna system, thus reducing drag.
For stationary antennas, excessive amounts of ice can de-tune the antenna to the point where its impedance at the input frequency rises drastically, causing voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) to rise as well. This reflected power goes back to the transmitter, where it can cause overheating. A foldback circuit activates to prevent this. However, it causes the station's output power to drop dramatically, reducing its range.
A radome prevents this by covering the antenna's exposed parts with a sturdy, weatherproof material, typically fiberglass, which keeps debris or ice away from the antenna to prevent any serious issues. It is interesting to note that one of the main driving forces behind the development of fiberglass as a structural material was the need during World War II for radomes. When considering structural load, the use of a radome greatly reduces wind load in both normal and iced conditions. Many tower sites require or prefer the use of radomes for wind loading benefits and for protection from falling ice or debris.
Sometimes radomes may be unsightly if near the ground, and heaters could be used instead. Usually running on direct current, the heaters do not interfere physically or electrically with the alternating current of the radio transmission.
The Menwith Hill electronic surveillance base, which includes over 30 radomes, is widely believed to regularly intercept satellite communications. At Menwith Hill, the radome enclosures have a further use in preventing observers from deducing the direction of the antennas, and therefore which satellites are being targeted. The same point was also made with respect to the radomes of the ECHELON facilities.
For maritime satellite communications service, radomes are widely used to protect dish antennas which are continually tracking fixed satellites while the ship experiences pitch, roll and yaw movements. Large cruise ships and oil tankers may have radomes over three meters in diameter to suit broadband transmissions for television, voice, data, and the Internet. Small private yachts may use radomes as small as 26 centimeters in diameter for voice and low-speed data.