NASA SBIR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-2 S1.02-8501
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Active Microwave Technologies
PROPOSAL TITLE: Microfabricated Millimeter-Wave Antenna Arrays

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Nuvotronics, LLC
7586 Old Peppers Ferry Loop
Radford, VA 24141 - 8846
(540) 552-4610

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Kenneth Vanhille
3155 State Street
Blacksburg, VA 24060 - 6604
(540) 540-4610

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 5 to 6

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
This proposal addresses the need for an antenna technology platform that meets the requirements of high-performance materials, exacting dimensional tolerances, and the geometrical design freedom to enable planar antenna array technologies for frequencies greater than 90GHz. The PolyStrata fabrication technology, being developed at Nuvotronics, LCC, Blacksburg, VA., is capable of meeting or exceeding all of the requirements outlined to be a solution for these frequencies. Air-filled copper rectangular coaxial transmission lines are fabricated using a photolithographically defined layer-by-layer process. The resulting transmission lines are extremely broadband, low-dispersion, high-isolation, and low loss compared to other forms of planar transmission lines. These lines are smaller than rectangular waveguides because the transverse cross-sections of the lines are not resonant. Phase II of this work will include the design, fabrication and characterization of prototypes that will enable PolyStrata-based frequency-scanned antenna-array operating from 140-160GHz with +/-16 degree beam steering, a beamwidth of 0.5 degrees and 400MHz per beam bandwidth. An antenna array with this performance would require roughly 24cm by 24cm. This is possible using 4 sub-arrays that each are fabricated on a single wafer and then tied together to achieve the overall system performance. We will develop and deliver prototypes that will be smaller versions of this, but demonstrate all the necessary aspects of the system including the feed network, the antennas, the tiling of subarrays and the connection to the outside world. The approach will offer a high-yield, cost effective product that will meet the NASA needs.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Primary applications for the frequency scanned antenna array are to provide significant improvements over existing Ka-band radar used for planetary landing missions. Ka-band radar sensors are planned for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission scheduled for 2009/2010, but future missions are anticipated to employ radar at frequencies centered above 90GHz, such as G-band (Pollard et al., 2005). Antennas operating in this frequency range will reduce landing radar size and weight substantially while maintaining or improving the system performance for topographic and velocity data acquisition by providing greater resolution. Pollard and Sadowy (JPL under NASA contract), have outlined in detail their requirements for the G-band radar system needed for future MSL missions, including antenna specifications and phase shifting capabilities. We believe that missions after the MSL will be our first targeted application for the Nuvotronics G-band antenna solutions. Future NASA missions, especially those involving autonomous landing in rough terrain, would be the next target applications for the proposed antenna innovations. In addition, antenna arrays and feed networks operating at these frequencies would have applications in space-based radiometers such as those aboard the NASA AQUA earth-observing satellite.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Other agencies (Air Force, Navy) could use the advantages of a PolyStrata-based millimeter-wave array in low-weight, high performance applications for autonomous landing and harbor guidance. The FSA would provide a substantially smaller payload for aircraft and heightened resolution in topography and velocity measurements. The millimeter-wave landing radar realized by the batch-level PolyStrata process can reduce cost—thereby making the autonomous landing radar a viable solution on many aircraft increasing long-term safety of craft and personnel. Harbor guidance for ships deals with the same weather and atmospheric-related issues. Additional applications include weather warnings and atmospheric research, especially where radar is mounted on aircraft or other vehicles to conduct surveys. The cost advantages would aid in the proliferation of radar at these frequencies. Since many of the current generation radars used for weather warning systems and meteorological forecasts are being updated with newer technologies (Heinselman, 2008), these microfabricated antenna array solutions could offer cost and size advantages.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

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