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Reconfigurable antennas, with the ability to radiate more than one pattern at different frequencies and polarizations, are necessary in modern telecommunication systems. The requirements for increased functionality (e.g., direction finding, beam steering, radar, control, and command) within a confined volume place a greater burden on today's transmitting and receiving systems. Reconfigurable antennas are a solution to this problem. This paper discusses the different reconfigurable components that can be used in an antenna to modify its structure and function. These reconfiguration techniques are either based on the integration of radio-frequency microelectromechanical systems (RF-MEMS), PIN diodes, varactors, photoconductive elements, or on the physical alteration of the antenna radiating structure, or on the use of smart materials such as ferrites and liquid crystals. Various activation mechanisms that can be used in each different reconfigurable implementation to achieve optimum performance are presented and discussed. Several examples of reconfigurable antennas for both terrestrial and space applications are highlighted, such as cognitive radio, multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) systems, and satellite communication.