Structureless antenna and inflatable antennas for cubesats

1. MIT have come up with a design that may significantly increase the communication range of small satellites, enabling them to travel much farther in the solar system: The team has built and tested an inflatable antenna that can fold into a compact space and inflate when in orbit.

The antenna significantly amplifies a radio signal, allowing a CubeSat to transmit data back to Earth at a higher rate. The distance that can be covered by a satellite outfitted with an inflatable antenna is seven times farther than that of existing CubeSat communications.

“With this antenna you could transmit from the moon, and even farther than that,” says Alessandra Babuscia, who led the research as a postdoc at MIT. “This antenna is one of the cheapest and most economical solutions to the problem of communications.”

An inflatable antenna is not a new idea. In fact, previous experiments in space have successfully tested such designs, though mostly for large satellites: To inflate these bulkier antennae, engineers install a system of pressure valves to fill them with air once in space — heavy, cumbersome equipment that would not fit within a CubeSat’s limited real estate.

They needed to find a new inflation mechanism.

The team landed on a lighter, safer solution, based on sublimating powder, a chemical compound that transforms from a solid powder to a gas when exposed to low pressure.

2. Tethers Unlimited has developed (DARPA contract) a revolutionary technology that will enable small spacecraft, such as nanosatellites and picosatellites, to deploy and utilize very large antenna apertures with exceptionally low mass requirements. This technology will enable new capabilities for small, low-power nanosatellites such as transmission of real-time video from GEO.

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