Bulky satellite dishes and ground terminals could become a thing of the past thanks to research currently being conducted for the European Space Agency (ESA) by the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) at Queen's University Belfast's Institute of Electronics, aimed at developing discrete self-steering flat antennas. They hope to develop a one-size-fits-all solution that could be optimised for a variety of applications presently used to deliver satellite broadband and television service to travellers and to users in broadband 'not spots'.
ECIT is currently working on an 18 month ESA project with the aim of developing a completely self-contained, solid-state, self-steering antenna that is much lighter and less power hungry than current alternatives. The team, led by Professor Vincent Fusco, plan to complete work on a 1.6-GHz demonstrator – capable of transferring data at 0.5 Mbit/s – with a power consumption of just 2 watts. They anticipate that the device will ultimately be able to operate at 20–30 GHz in order to provide much greater bandwidth.
The device currently being developed is a 4x5-element planar array measuring 30 by 40 cm with a depth of just 12 mm. Uniquely, the circuits are entirely analogue and incorporate specially adapted phase-locked loop circuits. By contrast, conventional approaches convert incoming signals to digital, process them electronically, and then convert them back to analogue. This limits their frequency range and increases their complexity, cost and power demand