Bulky satellite dishes and ground terminals could become relics of the past thanks to research currently being conducted for the European Space Agency (ESA) by Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), aimed at developing discrete self-aligning flat antennas. The aim of the 18-month ESA project is to develop a completely self-contained solid-state self-steering antenna that is much lighter and less power hungry than current alternatives.

The ECIT team, led by Professor Vincent Fusco, plans to complete work on a 1.6 GHz demonstrator—capable of providing transfer rates of 0.5 Mbits/s—with a power requirement of just 2 W. It is anticipated that the device will ultimately have the capability to operate at 20 to 30 GHz in order to provide much greater bandwidth. The design currently being worked on is a 4 × 5 element planar array measuring 30 by 40 cm and 12 mm deep. Uniquely, the circuits are entirely analogue and incorporate specially adapted phase locked loop circuits.

Neil Buchanan, the lead engineer on the project, commented, “The work is especially exciting because it has involved taking a piece of pure university research and bringing it into the real world. We believe that self-tracking antennas offer the prospect of much simpler and more cost effective alternatives to other current approaches. That, we believe, makes them ideally suited to a variety of end uses.”