Data transport between space platforms and Earth is vital to NASA mission success as well as commercial enterprises ranging from remote sensing to satellite-based television, radio, or data services. Throughput and data capture in all cases is subject to the availability and performance of ground network equipment—commonly a parabolic antenna. Efficiency across designs of parabolic antennas is typically in the 50-60% range due to a variety of losses, resulting in a loss of roughly half its theoretical potential to send and receive signals. Our proposed innovation is the application of a metasurface lens which augments the performance of the antenna by compensating for the phase and amplitude errors, engineering a medium with specific refractive indices at specific points on its surface. Metamaterials, composed of periodic subwavelength metal/dielectric structures that resonantly couple to the electric and/or magnetic components of the incident electromagnetic fields, exhibit negative and near-zero refractive indices to correct for phase and amplitude errors. A metasurface lens, created from a single-layer or minimal-layer stack of planar metamaterial structures with subwavelength thickness, can introduce a spatially varying electromagnetic response, molding wavefronts into shapes that can be designed at will, correcting the phase and amplitude response of a signal. The metasurface antenna lens is expected to result in efficiencies of 80-80% or greater depending on the antenna design. In this Phase I effort the material characteristics required for the textile metasurface will be determined through analyses, as will the approach for mounting, installation, and integration of both a textile and planar lens. Performance will be characterized through modeling and simulation. The result of the effort will be an analysis and simulation-based recommendation for a prototype design and its expected performance.
Application of the Parabolic Antenna Lens (PAL) to NASA ground terminal antennas and supporting commercial service providers has direct benefit to communications performance for missions. PAL can be beneficial across the full spectrum of NASA projects and missions, but may be most impactful for missions working to overcome the challenges of communicating from deep space distances. NASA could apply this innovation to existing ground terminals, without investing in new expensive infrastructure.
Two non-NASA markets utilize antennas which could benefit from PAL: (1) consumer equipment, and (2) the network infrastructure market. In the consumer equipment market, satellite TV or internet subscribers are target customers, motivated by a desire for uninterrupted access to content. For network infrastructure users, reliable data access represents a positive impact to revenues.