2012.A.2.2 Inflatable Antenna for CubeSat: Motivation for Development and Initial Trade Study
Alessandra Babuscia (1), Mark Van de Loo (1), Mary Knapp (1), Rebecca Jensen-Clem (1), and Sara Seager (1)
A.2 – Technology – Communications, Planning, Operations, and Computing Issues for Interplanetary CubeSat Missions
Inflatable antennas, Gain, Deployment, Interplanetary communication
CubeSat and other small satellites are becoming an affordable way to explore space and carry out scientific experiments. As missions for these spacecraft become more ambitious, moving from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and beyond, the communication systems currently implemented will no longer provide adequate support. One bottleneck in small spacecraft communication systems arises in antennas, due to the close relation between gain and antenna dimensions. Current CubeSat antennas are primarily dipole or patch antennas with limited gain. Deployable (not inflatable) antennas for the CubeSat platform are currently being investigated, but those solutions are hindered by the challenge of packaging the deployable structure in a small spacecraft.
The work that we propose represents the first attempt to develop an inflatable antenna for CubeSat. Inflatable structures and antennas can be packaged efficiently, occupying a small amount of space, and once deployed they can provide large dish dimensions and thus a large gain. Inflatable antennas have been previously tested in space (Inflatable Antenna Experiment, STS-77). However they have never been developed for small spacecraft such as CubeSat, where packaging efficiency, deployment, and inflation present a particular challenge.
This article is structured as follows: first, the context and benefits of using inflatable antennas are described; then a trade study of proposed antenna designs is presented, with emphasis on maximizing performance while remaining within constraints imposed by the CubeSat form factor.
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