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TU Delft students test a new antenna for satellites

Delft University Of Technology : 21 November, 2006  (Company News)
During a parabolic flight, a team of four Delft students tested for the first time an antenna they developed for micro-satellites. During the test flight, the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering's Cessna Citation II made 10 parabolic manoeuvres. During these manoeuvres, there was approximately a 12 second period of weightlessness inside the airplane that was comparable to the weightlessness experienced in space.
The students will test their design again during the European Space Agency Parabolic Flight Campaign. Their project is one of 30 European student research projects that were selected for these flights. The selected projects will be tested in a specially built passenger aircraft during a 2-hour flight in Bordeaux. During each flight, the airplane will fly approximately 30 parabolic manoeuvres.

When developing micro- and nano-satellites, researchers are confronted with a problem involving the storage of the antennae, which are often larger than the satellites themselves. During the launch, as well as when the satellite enters its orbit, the danger exists that the antennas will damage the delicate systems and mechanisms located on the exterior of the satellite. The TU Delft students have devised a new concept: the Modular Antenna Box. This antenna is made from 50 cm long metal strips and is placed, rolled up, in a box measuring 4 x 4 cm. It looks like an inside out flexible tape measure, in which the tape extends outwards.

During the parabolic flights, the antenna will be tested to see if it unrolls properly during weightlessness. 'During the tests in the lab in Delft, the antenna became twisted once, which can result in the solar panels and other delicate parts of the satellite being damaged,' says Joost Elstak, whose graduation project was based on the tests of the antennae. 'We believe that this was caused by the gravity. During ESA's parabolic flights, we want to determine if the antenna will properly unroll during weightlessness.' The tests went extremely well. 'Today we primarily wanted to test if the experimental structure we made for this would work properly, and it did.'

TU Delft hopes to launch its first Nano-satellite, the Delfi-C3, in 2007. The satellite weighs 3 kg and measures 10x10x30 cm. In future, micro-satellites will form a cluster in space. Tens of micro-satellites must replace one large satellite. Such miniature artificial moons are less vulnerable than a 'normal' satellite, because the tasks performed by micro-satellites that are damaged can be taken over by other satellites in the cluster.
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