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Nanosatellite Ground Station Communications Phased Array Antenna


TECHNOLOGY AREAS: Electronics, Space Platforms


The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals, their country of origin, and what tasks each would accomplish in the statement of work in accordance with section 3.5.b.(7) of the solicitation.

OBJECTIVE: Develop a single multi-band phased array antenna system for a nanosatellite communications ground station with the capability to simultaneously track and communicate with multiple nanosatellites in multi-plane low earth orbit.

DESCRIPTION: The Space & Missile Defense Command responsive space technology program has been developed to meet the space-related urgent needs of the warfighter in a timely manner. The operational concept calls for responsive space satellites to augment or reconstitute existing “big space” systems. Nanosatellites with masses on the order of 10 kg (22 lbs) or less are receiving an increasing level of attention within the national security community. A large constellation of nanosatellites in multiple Low Earth Orbit (LEO) orbital planes could provide persistent, UAV-like effects for warfighters in one or more theaters. Moreover, multiple satellites would need to be simultaneously tracked and multiple communication bands are envisioned to be employed by a single ground station with a single antenna. However, the ground stations for these satellites currently limit the capabilities of communicating with a constellation of nanosatellites. Although technology for ground stations for the larger Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite classes is mature, much less development has been done towards ground stations for LEO satellites that have much more demanding requirements for pointing and tracking. A key area of need for tactically relevant military nanosatellite systems is a robust stationary electronically steered antenna that gives nanosatellite ground stations the ability to be transportable, reliable, and to transmit encrypted satellite commands as well as receive encrypted nanosatellite telemetry. Current LEO ground station antennas use large mechanically steered antennas which are single band, track one satellite at a time, have moving parts and lack the reliability, mobility, and the pointing accuracy needed for the higher bands being required for future military systems. Nanosatellite-sized phased array ground station antenna units could significantly enhance the functionality of nanosatellites for warfighters. A single electronically steered antenna is envisioned that can communicate with more than one nanosatellite at a time and would have no moving parts. It would replace the current mechanically steered antennas and mechanical actuators required to establish horizon to horizon links to nanosatellites. Furthermore, a single electronically steered antenna could enable the ground station to establish links in multiple bands to multiple nanosatellites at a given time.

Researchers into phased array antenna innovations for nanosatellite ground station communications should take several constraints under consideration, including:

• Phased array antenna

• Simultaneous multiple satellite tracking/communications-2 satellites (Threshold)

• Horizon to Horizon tracking

• Nanosatellite LEO multi-plane constellations-2 orbital planes (Threshold), 500 kilometer nominal orbits

• Multi-band capable- Frequencies = UHF (230-380 MHz) (Threshold), S-Band (2.025-2.29 GHz) (Threshold), C-Band (4.4-5.0 GHz) (Goal)

• Show path to man transportable size and weight in Phase III.

• Array gain and pointing accuracy sufficient to close satellite link. Minimum 10dB in all bands of interest (Threshold), 30dB (Goal)

• Digital processing and beam-forming techniques

• Acquisition and tracking modes

• Bandwidth = 25 KHz (Threshold) – 5 MHz (Goal)

• Data rate = 2 Kbps (Threshold) – 6 Mbps (Goal)

• Compatibility with planned SMDC nanosatellite systems

PHASE I: Conduct feasibility studies, technical analysis and simulation, and conduct small scale proof of concept demonstrations of proposed Nanosatellite Ground Station Communications Phased Array Antenna innovations. Develop an initial conceptual approach to incorporating a Nanosatellite Ground Station Communications Phased Array Antenna into a nanosatellite ground station and include system estimates for mass, volume, power requirements, and duty cycles. Deliverables should include monthly status reports, feasibility demonstration reports and any hardware produced.

PHASE II: Implement technology assessed in Phase I effort. The Phase II effort should include initial Nanosatellite Ground Station Communications Phased Array Antenna designs, mock-ups, and breadboard validation in a laboratory environment. Initial technical feasibility shall be demonstrated, including a demonstration of key subsystem phenomena. Deliverables should include quarterly status reports, design documentation and any hardware produced.

PHASE III: The contractor shall finalize technology development of the proposed nanosatellite ground station phased array antenna system and begin commercialization of the product. In addition to military communications or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, commercial civilian applications for a nanosatellite ground station phased array antenna could include space-based satellite communications. Phase III should solidly validate the notion of a nanosatellite ground station phased array Antenna with a low level of technological risk. The goal for full commercialization should ideally be Technology Readiness Level 9, with the actual system proven through successful mission operations. Specifically, Phase III should ultimately produce a nanosatellite ground station phased array antenna suitable for nanosatellite ground station applications. The contractor must also consider manufacturing processes in accordance with the president’s Executive Order on “Encouraging Innovation in Manufacturing” to insure that the innovations developed under this SBIR can be readily manufactured and packaged for transportation and deployment.  

During Phase III, this antenna could conceivably transition or expand to the appropriate division of the Army Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space (PEO M&S) upon full rate production and deployment. PEO M&S could maintain a stockpile of nanosatellite ground stations to responsively meet urgent warfighter needs. Simultaneously, commercial versions of the nanosatellite ground station phased array antenna innovations could be produced for civilian and scientific applications. Commercial satellite manufacturers could incorporate them into a variety of commercial satellite systems for sale to various interested customers. Commercial companies could also provide competitively priced nanosatellite-based communications or remote sensing services to paying customers, including the national security community.

PRIVATE SECTOR COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL: There is a perceived potential for commercialization of this technology. The primary customer for the proposed technology will initially be the Department of Defense, but there could also be other applications in the areas of commercial satellite communications.

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