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State-of-the-Art Antenna Technology: The 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium

January 15, 2009
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The Antenna Applications Symposium and its predecessor, the Air Force Antenna Symposium, have for more than 50 years provided a unique forum for exchange of ideas and information about the practical aspects of antenna design, development and use in systems. The Antenna Applications Symposium is held annually at the Retreat Center in Robert Allerton Park, a century-old Georgian mansion just outside of Monticello, IL (see Figure 1). The elegance of the facility, a single-track technical program with stimulating presentations, and ample networking opportunities contribute to fruitful group and one-on-one interactions.


The Antenna Applications Symposium emphasizes antenna design and application to systems. It is a unique forum, where industrial engineers are encouraged to present practical solutions to problems that are encountered during development and implementation of antennas and antenna systems. The symposium features technical presentations from industry, government and academia. Attendees at the 2008 symposium represented all three military services, law enforcement, companies from the US and abroad, and universities from across the country. The presentations exemplify the breadth of antenna applications, ranging from arrays for radar, communication, navigation and remote sensing, to innovative, multidisciplinary basic research concepts for antenna reconfigurability and multifunctionality, to numerical modeling techniques. The conference includes technical focus sessions on timely, compelling topics, and showcases exceptional young engineers through the annual Student Paper Contest.

Figure 1 Afternoon break at the annual Antenna Applications Symposium.

Topics at the 2008 symposium included many of the technologies that are at the forefront of current R&D: arrays, antenna design methods, cost reduction, performance enhancement and platform interactions. A focus session provided stimulating discussions about applications of metamaterials to practical antenna problems on military and aerospace vehicles.

Technology Highlights of the 2008 Symposium

Array Antennas

Wide bandwidth phased arrays continue to be an area of intense interest. Experienced designers of Vivaldi antenna elements and end-coupled dipoles can achieve 10:1 bandwidth while scanning to 45° or more.1,2 However, these wideband array designs have unsolved problems related to low-cost manufacturing and maintenance, easy integration with the array back plane, size, weight and materials. The paper by Stasiowski1 is a useful primer for anyone planning to build a Vivaldi array that operates above 10 GHz (see Figure 2). The problems of connector attachment and PC board shrinkage were overcome to successfully fabricate 128-element printed circuit boards for a large array designed to operate from 2 to 18 GHz. The lessons learned during the fabrication of this array were applied to a large array.

Figure 2 Prototype dual-polarized Vivaldi antenna array 6 to 8 GHz.1

The Balanced Antipodal Vivaldi Antenna (BAVA) has many features of traditional Vivaldi and of coupled-dipole arrays, but is more amenable to low-cost modular construction. BAVA arrays do not require electrical contact or close proximity to adjacent elements, so arrays can be assembled by using individual elements or small subarrays. The BAVA phased-array element is based on the original BAVA design,3 but is modified to perform well in scanning arrays. Elsallal described BAVA arrays utilizing modular elements.4 Figure 3 shows a typical BAVA element and its VSWR in an infinite array environment. The simulated VSWR, for four angles in the E-plane of an infinite array, was computed by using a periodic cell approach.4

Figure 3 Balanced Antipodal Vivaldi Antenna in a singly polarized array configuration.

Despite advances in the capability and manufacturing of T/R modules, their cost, efficiency and thermal dissipation remain key drivers in the overall cost of phased-array antennas. In a typical array configuration, one T/R module is needed for each array element, and the element spacing must be no more than one-half wavelength to avoid grating lobes. Thus, the array requires four T/R modules per square wavelength of aperture and eight for dual-polarized arrays. The module count might be reduced by partitioning the aperture into subarrays and feeding the elements of a subarray by a single T/R module. However, the use of uniform subarrays on a periodic grid introduces grating lobes into the array pattern. Randomizing the subarray shapes, sizes and locations can eliminate the grating lobes (the average sidelobe level is increased as a result of redistributing the grating lobe power), but the randomized array cannot take advantage of low-cost manufacturing of multiple, identical subarrays.

Polyomino-shaped subarrays can eliminate grating lobes from the array pattern while retaining the advantages of uniform subarray shape. The paper by Mailloux, et al. described arrays of four-(tetromino) and eight-(octomino) element subarrays that can be fed by lossless power dividers.5 In this case, the subarrays are used for the purpose of introducing time delays into a phase scanned array. Although all subarrays are identical, randomization is obtained by rotating the subarrays and fitting them into place so that their phase centers form an irregular pattern. Figure 4 shows examples of rotated tetromino and octomino subarrays, and illustrates how they can be fitted into an array. In this way, the authors demonstrated grating lobe suppression of up to 20 dB for large arrays of tetromino and octomino shaped subarrays with only a few tenths of a dB gain reduction in most cases.

Figure 4 Polyomino-shaped subarrays can be used to completely fill a prescribed aperture.

Manufacturing and assembly techniques that are appropriate for microwave frequency antenna arrays may not be viable for millimeter-wave arrays. Array feed networks require signals to be distributed over areas spanning several wavelengths. Fabrication tolerances and material losses of ordinary printed circuits make them less attractive for frequencies above 30 GHz. Also, connections between components are problematic at these frequencies.

Micro-fabrication techniques, however, become practical when the circuit sizes shrink to a few centimeters. Three-dimensional, micro-electromagnetic RF systems (3-D MERFS) demonstrate yields above 99 percent and few effects from surface roughness and strata misalignments.6 Agreement between computer simulations and circuit performance is excellent, illustrating that this technology is maturing for system implementation. A comprehensive list of microwave components can be assembled with three-dimensional micromachined rectangular coaxial lines of micron scale. Filipovic, et al.6,7 demonstrated the use of micro-fabricated coaxial lines for a Ka-band array. Figure 5 shows the upper surface of a 3-D 16 x 16 butler matrix connected to a Ka-band array operating at 36 GHz. The cavity-backed patch antenna elements (left) are fed with a recta-coax 16 x 16 Butler matrix. The system includes integrated resistors and power dividers/combiners.

Figure 5 Micro-coaxial Ka-band phased array operating at 36 GHz.

Advances continue to be seen in the application of arrays. Daly and Bernhard8 presented an array of reconfigurable elements for multi-directional communication with built-in security. The presentation considered an array of reconfigurable square spiral antennas with switches to make the elements radiate in two modes, one near broadside and the other near end-fire. These elements were used in a 1 x 4 array with no other phase or amplitude control. This degree of element pattern change provides directional modulation so that, at one angle, there can be 16 possible transmitted signals. At angles outside of the desired transmission region the transmitted modulation is significantly distorted, thus providing a degree of communication security. If extended, this new application for reconfigurable arrays could provide independent, secure communication in multiple directions.

The paper by Herting, et al.9 is an excellent example of the symposium’s traditional emphasis on solid, practical engineering. The authors revisited the design of a waveguide edge slot array, with a view to reducing manufacturing costs by relaxing mechanical tolerances wherever permitted by the design and the performance requirements. To this end, they developed a Monte Carlo-based tolerance analysis method utilizing a standard transmission line model for the edge slot waveguide. The shunt admittances were derived from full-wave electromagnetic simulations using Ansoft HFSS™. By analyzing the array performance for many variations of the slot tilt angle, depth, width and location, it is possible to determine the tolerance requirements for these parameters. The efficiency of the procedure was shown to make this a useful tool in selecting the lowest cost manufacturing process for an edge slot waveguide array.

Design Techniques and Performance Enhancement

Throughout its history, the symposium has been a forum for presentation and discussion of cutting-edge antenna concepts, with a focus on application-oriented design and analysis. In keeping with this heritage, the 2008 symposium featured a number of papers on emerging antenna technologies.

In the area of reconfigurable antennas, Huff, et al.10 presented concepts for biologically-inspired antennas based on the rapidly adapting cuttlefish. The cuttlefish controls its outward appearance through neural manipulation of a complex, multi-layered skin structure. The skin contains microfluidic elements that include colloidal materials and periodic gratings to reflect, refract and polarize light, enabling the cuttlefish to dramatically alter its appearance. The proposed antenna analog to this system relies on electromagnetically functionalized colloidal dispersions, or EFCDs, that have specified dielectric, magnetic and/or conductive properties.10 In the example of Figure 6, EFCDs flow through capillaries embedded in the substrate of a microstrip patch antenna. Measured results indicate that significant frequency reconfiguration can be achieved using a range of mixtures of colloids with varying electric and magnetic properties. Other biologically-inspired mechanisms create pattern reconfigurable antennas.

Figure 6 Microstrip patch with substrate-embedded capillaries through which EFCDs flow.

Answering the constant call from commercial and government users for antennas to fit into smaller and smaller packages while working at lower and lower frequencies, the symposium routinely contains several papers on development of electrically small antennas. Steven Best presented his work on the study of a number of electrically small antennas that have wide operating bandwidths.11 These include designs by Goubau, Friedman, Ravipati, Nakano and Best. The behavior of each of these designs is carefully modeled to better understand their fundamental operating principles. The paper also provides an insightful discussion of metrics that might be used to assess the relative merits of wideband electrically small antennas, including the critical tradeoff between size and operating bandwidth. Sussman-Fort and Rudish12 showed that non-Foster matching can yield 2:1 improvement in power efficiencies, compared to passively matched small antennas over a frequency range 1.2 to 20 MHz. Average power levels of 1.2 W were realized over this frequency band.

Figure 7 Partially assembled model of helicopter (inverted) with radar antenna installed for testing.

Antenna packaging and platforms have rightly garnered a great deal of attention over the years, with these critical system aspects often becoming the key drivers in overall system performance. For example, McCartney described the performance of a helicopter-mounted radar system, shown in Figure 7, and presented simulated and measured results of the electromagnetic effects of the helicopter body.13 Accurate characterization of the antenna performance requires an exact replica of the vehicle. McCartney also presented an after-dinner talk on radome development for a number of well-known aircraft, especially the nose radome for the Concorde SST. The talk provided an excellent inside view of the electromagnetic design and manufacturing processes for such a high-profile, high-technology product. The talk included a number of photos as well as interesting and often humorous anecdotes about the development team, the other technology innovations that went into the aircraft, and of course the multi-national bureaucracy that oversaw the whole operation.

Other papers that focused on packaging and platforms generated a great deal of discussion among the participants. For example, Kerby and Bernhard14 described the use and analysis of integrated ground plane structures to reduce mutual coupling between antennas on a platform. Lalezari, et al. illustrated through analysis and measurements that the accuracy and false alarm rate of a portable direction finding system can be improved by exploiting interactions with the human body of the operator.15

Practical Applications of Metamaterials to Antennas

The symposium frequently includes a focus session. The 2008 focus session, chaired by David Curtis of the US Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate at Hanscom Air Force Base, explored the status of metamaterials, with respect to practical antenna designs, and identified antenna performance challenges that might be overcome by further improvements to presently available metamaterial properties. Metamaterials are a class of ordered or disordered composites (including nanostructures) that exhibit exceptional properties not readily observed in nature.16 Those properties arise from qualitatively new response functions that: 1) are not observed in the constituent materials; and 2) result from artificially fabricated, extrinsic inclusions and inhomogeneities, often of low dimensionality. The use of metamaterial composites is not limited to electromagnetics; mechanical, acoustical and thermal properties can be tailored with metamaterials as well.

Derov, et al.16 described the RF properties of metamaterials and discussed the results of many researchers in the field. Metamaterials often exhibit negative permittivity, negative permeability, or negative index of refraction in a particular band of frequencies. The physical structures and phenomenologies that lead to these properties are critical to the use of metamaterials in antennas and other systems. Some metamaterials that were developed for applications unrelated to antennas may impact the field. For example, high-power-density and high-temperature-resistant composite magnets were developed under the DARPA metamaterials program utilizing nano-ferrites. These magnets were designed for power generators and magnetic bearings in engines. However, they might be used for high-field, thin-film magnets to bias circulators and isolators, thus reducing the size of transmit/receive modules and thereby impacting phased-array design.

Steven Weiss and Amir Zaghloul from the US Army Research Laboratory Sensors and Electron Devices Directorate at Adelphi, MD, described communication and sensor requirements for Army platforms and suggested that metamaterials utilizing magnetic properties may provide enhancements that have been unachievable with current techniques. Steven Best showed several metamaterial-based antennas and described their performance relative to fundamental limits and to traditional antenna designs. He noted that antenna designers usually confront requirements and/or tradeoffs of antenna performance that are driven by system goals. The realized gain of an antenna is comprised of directivity, efficiency and mismatch. The directivity of an electrically small antenna is approximately the same as a small dipole (1.8 dB) or monopole (4.8 dB), if a large ground plane is used. To optimize the performance of a small antenna, the designer must match the antenna impedance to the source or load while maintaining high efficiency. Traditional lumped element (RLC) or transmission-line matching techniques, coupled with conventional antenna design approaches, can be used to achieve these goals. Best noted that some of the published metamaterial antenna designs function primarily as impedance matching devices that are added to an otherwise familiar antenna structure. Often, the metamaterial that is added increases the structure’s volume, a fact that must be considered when comparing the bandwidth to antennas without the metamaterial. Best noted that Chu’s bandwidth limit for small antennas17 applies to antennas comprised of ordinary materials and of metamaterials, provided the total volume of the antenna plus any added materials is considered. Best emphasized that when considering or designing metamaterial antennas, it is important to compare their performance relative to both fundamental limits and conventional designs.

An example of a “conventional” antenna that is well matched and achieves nearly the minimum possible Q for its volume18 is shown in Figure 8. This spherical antenna uses only ordinary materials to control the current distribution and electromagnetic fields for near-minimum Q and, hence, nearly maximum bandwidth. This low-Q antenna fits within a 24 mm radius sphere, operates at 1.03 GHz and has a 3.4 percent bandwidth for a VSWR less than 2 at 50 Ω. The single-session format of the Antenna Applications Symposium allows extended discussion of the technical presentations. The metamaterial session featured lively and informative debate.

Figure 8 A low-Q "conventional" antenna.

Student Paper Contest

Each year, four or five students are selected to be finalists in the Student Paper Contest. Student authored papers that describe innovative work on antenna design, fabrication, testing, analysis or related topics are eligible for the contest. The four finalists in 2008 were Rajesh C. Paryani from the University of Central Florida, supervised by Prof. Nader Behdad, Steven Holland from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, supervised by Prof. Dan Schaubert, Matthew J. Radway from the University of Colorado, supervised by Prof. Dejan Filipovic, and Jacob Adams from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, supervised by Prof. Jennifer Bernhard. All four finalists received free registration and travel support to attend the symposium and present their work. The winning paper is selected by a panel of judges, based on the technical merit of the full-length conference paper and the quality of the student’s presentation.

Rajesh Paryani won first place for his paper entitled “A Wideband, Dual-polarized, Differentially-fed Cavity-backed Slot Antenna.” Paryani’s advisor, Prof. Nader Behdad, also won the student paper contest when he was a student at the University of Michigan.

In Figure 9, Paryani, left, receives congratulations as winner of the Student Paper Contest from W. Devereux Palmer, program manager for electromagnetics at the US Army Research Office.

Figure 9 Rajesh Paryani receives congratulations for winning the student paper contest.

Conclusion

As it has been for over 50 years, the Antenna Applications Symposium, and its predecessor the Air Force Antenna Symposium, is a meeting place for antenna engineers from around the world; a place to discuss technology in the magnificent setting of Robert Allerton Park. Phased arrays are always a significant part of the program. Wide bandwidth operation and reduced manufacturing and operating costs are two areas of ongoing work. New materials and microfabrication techniques are extending the frequency range of arrays. New applications and new techniques, such as secure communication by pattern modulation, were disclosed at the symposium.

Novel antenna designs are a common topic at the symposium. New designs presented in 2008 included a reconfigurable antenna using colloidal solutions inspired by the cuttlefish and several ways to control or to utilize antenna-platform interactions. The importance of electrically small antennas is evident from continuing work to improve their bandwidth and efficiency.

Metamaterials are composite structures that exhibit properties not achieved in nature. Despite the allure of these materials and despite several prototype demonstrations of exciting features, they are not yet widely used in practical antenna systems. A focus session at the 2008 symposium updated attendees on the status and challenges to using metamaterials in practical antenna systems.

The Proceedings of the Antenna Applications Symposium are archived by the US Air Force as technical reports that can be retrieved from the Defense Technical Information Center. With the support of the US Air Force Research Laboratory Antenna Technology Branch at Hanscom AFB, the US Army Research Office and MITRE Corp., the Proceedings of this symposium have been archived in searchable electronic format on DVD, a copy of which is provided to each conference registrant. This portable electronic archive provides easy access to all available papers presented at the Allerton Symposium from 1952 through 2008. Abstracts are solicited annually in the spring, and are submitted to the conference web site (www.ecs.umass.edu/ece/allerton/).

References

1. M. Stasiowski and D. Schaubert, “Broadband Array Antenna,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 42-59.
2. B.A. Munk, “A Wide Band, Low Profile Array of End Loaded Dipoles with Dielectric Slab Compensation,” Proceedings of the 2006 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 20-22, 2006, pp. 149-165.
3. J.D.S. Langley, P.S. Hall and P. Newham, “Novel Ultrawide-bandwidth Vivaldi Antenna with Low Crosspolarisation,” Electronics Letters, Vol. 29, No. 23, 11 November 1993, pp. 2004-2005.
4. M.W. Elsallal, D.H. Schaubert and J.B. West, “Advances in the Development of Electronically Scanned Arrays of Balanced Antipodal Antenna,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 1-16.
5. R.J. Mailloux, S.G. Santarelli, T.M Roberts and D. Luu, “Comparison of the Broadband Properties of Arrays Having Time-delayed Four- and Eight-element Polyomino Subarrays,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 17-41.
6. D. Filipovic, G. Potvin, D. Fontaine, Y. Saito, J.M. Rollin, Z. Popovic, M. Lukic, K. Vanhille and C. Nichols, “m-Coaxial Phased Arrays for Ka-band Communications,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 104-115.
7. Z. Popovic, S. Rondino, D. Filipovic, D. Sherrer, C. Nichols, J.M. Rollin and K. Vanhille, “An Enabling New 3-D Architecture for Microwave Components and Systems,” Microwave Journal, Vol. 51, No. 2, February 2008, pp. 66-86.
8. M.P. Daly and J.T. Bernhard, “Phased Array for Multi-direction Secure Communication,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 116-131.
9. B.J. Herting, M.W. Elsallal, J.C. Mather and J.B. West, “Novel Hybrid Tolerance Analysis Method with Application to the Low Cost Manufacture of Edge Slot Waveguide Arrays,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 222-232.
10. G.H. Huff, S. Goldberger and S.A. Long, “The RF Cuttlefish: Overview of Biologically Inspired Concepts for Smart Skins and Reconfigurable Antennas,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 291-305.
11. S. Best, “The State-of-the-Art in Small Wideband Antennas,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium (not included in print version), September 16-18, 2008.
12. S.E. Sussman-Fort and R.M. Rudish, “Non-foster Matching of Electrically-small Antennas to Transmitters,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 326-342.
13. C. McCartney, “Helicopter Mounted Radar Installed Characterization Assessments: Theoretical Predictions and Measurements,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 270-290.
14. K.C. Kerby and J.T. Bernhard, “Investigation of Ground Plane Slot Designs for Isolation of Co-sited Microstrip Antennas,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 454-462.
15. A. Lalezari, F. Lalezari, B. Jeong and D. Filipovic, “Evaluation of Human Body Interaction for the Enhancement of a Broadband Body-borne Radio Geolocation System,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 436-453.
16. J.S. Derov, E.E. Crisman and A.J. Drehman, “Metamaterials and Their RF Properties,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 176-189.
17. L.J. Chu, “Physical Limitations on Omni-Directional Antennas,” Journal of Applied Physics, Vol. 19, No. 12, December 1948, pp. 1163-1175.
18. J.J. Adams and J.T. Bernhard, “A Class of Electrically Small Spherical Antennas with Near-minimum Q,” Proceedings of the 2008 Antenna Applications Symposium, September 16-18, 2008, pp. 165-175.

Daniel H. SchaubertDaniel H. Schaubert is professor of electrical engineering and director of the Center for Advanced Sensor and Communication Antennas, CASCA, at the University of Massachusetts (UMass). Prior to joining UMass, he worked for the US Army Research Laboratory and for the Food and Drug Administration. He has several patents and his antenna designs are used in military and civilian systems for radar, radiometers and communications. He has designed low-cost antennas for commercial cellular and local area network products. He is known for pioneering work to develop wide bandwidth Vivaldi antenna arrays and to understand their behavior.

Jennifer T. BernhardJennifer T. Bernhard earned her BS degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1988 and her MS and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Duke University in 1990 and 1994, respectively. She is currently a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Electromagnetics Laboratory. Her research interests include reconfigurable and wideband microwave antennas and circuits, high speed wireless communication and sensor networks, electromagnetic compatibility, and electromagnetics for biological applications. She served as president of the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society in 2008.

Robert J. MaillouxRobert J. Mailloux received his BS degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University and his SM and PhD degrees from Harvard University. He is currently a research professor at the University of Massachusetts, where he conducts research in antennas at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Sensors Directorate at Hanscom AFB, in Massachusetts. He is the author or co-author of numerous journal articles, book chapters, 13 patents and books. He is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, and has received a number of Air Force and IEEE awards.

W. Devereux PalmerW. Devereux Palmer received his PhD degree in electrical engineering from Duke University. He is currently a program manager at the US Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park, NC, where he manages extramural basic research in computational electromagnetics, antennas and RF circuit integration. From 1991 to 2001, he served on the technical staff at the MCNC Research and Development Institute. He is engaged in antenna research as a Member of the Graduate Faculty at Duke University and occasionally teaches introductory electromagnetics. He is a registered Professional Engineer and IEEE Senior Member.

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