Modern origami-inspired antenna expertise to be used in small satellites

A multidisciplinary team developed a small, lightweight and inexpensive antenna that can be used for nano and microsatellite communication. Photo credit: Pusan ​​National University

A multidisciplinary team developed a small, lightweight and inexpensive antenna that can be used for nano and microsatellite communication.

In a brand new study, scientists from Korea and the US discovered a novel antenna design for use in CubeSat nanosatellites using state-of-the-art communication systems such as 6G communication. Using theoretical knowledge based on origami theory, mechanical dynamics and antenna array principles, the researchers built a small, lightweight and reconfigurable antenna for CubeSat, depending on the selected operating mode. This could potentially mark the beginning of a new era in satellite communications!

Modern telecommunications systems rely on satellites to relay signals quickly and reliably around the world. This allows users to instantly send messages around the world, watch live television or – more recently – hold conference calls with global partners right from the kitchen table!

Communication satellites use high frequency radio waves to transmit data, with antennas acting as a bi-directional interface, converting the electrical current provided by the transmitter into radio waves and vice versa when coupled to a receiver. Antennas are therefore important pieces of equipment without which satellites and ground receivers would be practically useless.

Despite advances in modern satellite design and performance, antenna technology remains a limiting factor in next-generation telecommunications like 6G. Engineers struggle to miniaturize antennas for nanosatellites without compromising on cost or performance. For example, nanosatellites like CubeSats can be as small as a 10cc cube, but making a communications antenna small enough to be stored in it during take-off and flight is expensive and technologically challenging.

“Many of the high-performance antennas reported for CubeSat systems are deployable, foldable or inflatable.” explains Dr. Sangkil Kim from Pusan ​​National University in South Korea.

Recently, Dr. Kim and his colleagues at Pusan ​​National University and the University of Alabama, USA, developed a new deployable antenna for CubeSats that is used in near-earth orbit (LEO). Interestingly, their design was inspired by the mathematics of “origamis,” the Japanese art of paper folding – specifically a field called spatial mapping – which enabled them to determine the best geometry for a foldable, deployable antenna. With the design on paper, they set out to manufacture and test the antenna.

With remarkable dimensions of 32.5 mm3 when folded and a weight of only 5 grams, the prototype antenna fits exactly into a CubeSat. The researchers used an inexpensive material to make the majority of the antenna and used special joints to fold the square boards into a cube that can be easily stored during takeoff and flight. In orbit, the antenna can be used outside the CubeSat to receive and send data.

Prof. Kim and his team went one step further and set up different operational modes, depending on whether satellites had to communicate with each other or with the earth. “The volume, the radiation pattern and the polarizations of the antenna can be reconfigured according to the required operating mode,” explains Dr. Kim. This configuration allowed researchers to optimize the antenna’s performance for any type of communication.

With such promising results, the scientists hope that their design will inspire usable designs for nanosatellite antenna technology in the future and pave the way for next-generation communications systems like 6G. Their prototype will not only lower the cost of future nanosatellites and improve their overall performance, but it can also be scaled to larger satellites in geostationary orbit and other communication platforms on Earth.

Reference: “Origami-inspired radiation pattern and reconfigurable dipole array antenna in C-band for CubeSat applications” by Myeongha Hwang, Gyoungdeuk Kim, Sangkil Kim and Nathan Seongheon Jeong, October 20, 2020, IEEE transactions on antennas and propagation.
DOI: 10.1109 / TAP.2020.3030908

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