Large European Antenna: European independence in space
An inherent part of sending satellites to space is to place them in a rocket for launch from Earth. The size of the rocket naturally limits the size of the satellite, including the antennas that the satellite can carry. Conventional solid reflector antennas are, therefore, limited to diameters of approximately 3 meters, which is in stark contrast to ground station antennas, which can be tens or even, for special applications, hundreds of meters in diameter.
It has thus for decades been of interest to develop large reflector antennas that can be stowed during launch in a limited volume on the satellite and deployed once the satellite is in space. This type of product has existed in the US for more than three decades and used in numerous successful missions. A similar European technology had been under development for some years but was not mature for a real mission.
In this context, the European Commission, as part of the Horizon2020 funding program, awarded in 2017 a 5M€ contract to a large European consortium to develop the Large European Antenna (LEA), a large deployable reflector antenna at Technology Readiness Level of 8 corresponding to “flight qualified” hardware. The consortium was led by the German company HPS High Performance Space Structure Systems GmbH, and TICRA was part of the consortium with the responsibility of the challenging RF modeling of the LEA.
The team in the LEA project decided to develop a 6-meter deployable reflector to be fully tested and qualified in X band at 10.65 GHz. The manufactured antenna, that consists of a deployable truss, a triangular facetted surface, and a lightweight knitted mesh, was RF measured in the Fall of 2020 using the Portable Antenna Measurement System (PAMS) at the Airbus Defence and Space measurement facility in Ottobrunn, Germany.
With laser measurements of the manufactured antenna’s surface shape, measured properties of the tricot mesh, measured feed patterns as well as details on the truss and the feed tower, TICRA modelled, using both the GRASP and ESTEAM software in TICRA Tools, the deployable LEA in the measurement chamber and correlated measurements and simulations in the first months of 2021. The excellent results will be presented at the upcoming EuCAP 2022 conference in Madrid.
The successful LEA project has lifted European technology, so that Europe now stands much stronger and independent on the important topic of large deployable reflector antennas.
More details on the LEA project and consortium: https://www.welea.eu/