Conformal, Lightweight, Aerogel-Based Antenna
This CLAS-ACT is a lightweight, active phased array conformal antenna comprised of a thin multilayer microwave printed circuit board built on a flexible aerogel substrate using new methods of bonding. The aerogel substrate enables the antenna to be fitted onto curved surface. NASA's prototype operates at 11-15 GHz (Ku-band), but the design could be scaled to operate in the Ka-band (26 to 40 GHz). The antenna element design incorporates a dual stacked patch for wide bandwidth to operate on both the uplink and downlink frequencies with a common aperture. These elements are supported by a flexible variant of aerogel that allows the material to be thick in comparison to the wavelength of the signal with little to no additional weight. The conformal antenna offers advantages of better aerodynamics for the airframe, and potentially offers more physical area to either broadcast further distances or to broadcast at a higher data rate. The intended application for this antenna is for UAVs that need more than line of sight communications for command and control but cannot accommodate a large satellite dish. Examples may be UAVs intended for coastal monitoring, power line monitoring, emergency response, and border security where remote flying over large areas may be expected. Smaller UAVs may benefit greatly from the conformal antenna. Another possible application is a UAV mobile platform for Ku-band satellite communication. With the expectation that 5G will utilize microwave frequencies this technology may be of interest to other markets outside of satellite communications. For example, the automotive industry could benefit from a light weight conformal phased array for embedded radar. Also, the CLAS-ACT could be used for vehicle communications or even vehicle to vehicle communications.
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