Origami-inspired antenna expertise to be used in small satellites
PICTURE: A multidisciplinary team developed a small, lightweight and inexpensive deployable antenna for communication with nano and microsatellites More
Photo credit: Pusan National University
Modern telecommunication systems rely on satellites to forward signals quickly and reliably worldwide. 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 two-way 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 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 takeoff 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 “origami,” 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. Using an inexpensive material to make most of the antenna, the researchers folded the square boards into a cube using special connections that can be easily stored during takeoff and flight. As soon as the antenna is in orbit, it can be deployed outside the CubeSat and is ready 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 the 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. Not only will your prototype 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.
Authors: Myeongha Hwang (1), Gyoungdeuk Kim (1), Sangkil Kim (1), Nathan Seongheon Jeong (2)
Original paper title: Origami-Inspired Radiation Pattern and Reconfigurable Dipole Array Antenna in C-Band for CubeSat Applications
Journal: IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation
DOI: 10.1109 / TAP.2020.3030908
(1) Pusan National University, South Korea
(2) University of Alabama, USA
About Pusan National University
Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea, was founded in 1946 and is now South Korea’s No. 1 national university in research and educational literacy. The multi-campus university also has other smaller campuses in Yangsan, Miryang, and Ami. The university prides itself on the principles of truth, freedom, and service and has approximately 30,000 students, 1,200 professors, and 750 faculty members. The university consists of 14 colleges (schools) and an independent department with a total of 103 departments.
About the author
Dr. Sangkil Kim is an assistant professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Pusan National University (South Korea). After receiving a BS from Yonsei University in 2010, he graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering with an MS and a PhD. He then worked as a senior engineer at Qualcomm Inc., where he worked on the world’s first commercial 5G mmWave antenna module for mobile devices. He has received several awards including the IET Premium Award Microwave, Antennas & Propagation, and the KIEES Young Researcher Award. He is a member of the IEEE MTT-26 RFID, Wireless Sensors and IoT committees.
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