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2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP)

DragOnFly - Electronically Steerable Low Drag Aeronautical Antenna

F. Silvestri 1 , A. Benini 2 , E. Gandini 3 , G. Gerini 1 , E. Martini 2 , S. Maci 2 , M. C. Viganò 4 , M. Geurts 5 , G. Toso 6 , S. Monni 3

1 TNO, Delft, Netherlands, fabrizio.silvestri@tno.nl 2 University of Siena, Siena, Italy 3 TNO, The Hague, Netherlands 4 VIASAT, Lausanne, Switzerland 5 NXP Semiconductor, Eindhoven, Netherlands 6 ESA-ESTEC, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Abstract—This paper presents design considerations for the development of wide-scanning antennas for on-craft satellite communications. A scanning coverage of 80is required for this application over a 15% fractional bandwidth in Ka-band. A solution based on a phased array illuminating a passive superstrate is identified as the most promising. A fully- electronic beam-scanning is considered in order to reduce the overall thickness of the antenna architecture by avoiding mechanical rotational supports. This is beneficial for the application since a reduced thickness corresponds to a lower drag. Two kinds of superstrates were investigated, a flat solution and a flattened dome. In both cases, the deflecting structure is illuminated by a phased array and is represented as a surface characterized by an optimized phase shift distribution that allows to maintain a high gain level up to very large scan angles. A flatter gain profile compared to a typical cosine scan loss for planar phased arrays was achieved in both cases. Attention was devoted to the minimization of the thickness, which was significantly reduced in comparison to classical dielectric dome solutions.

Index Terms—Satellite communications, dome antennas, beam deflector.

I.

INTRODUCTION

Inter-continental flights need a large beam-steering capability in order to keep the connection with the satellite while travelling over different sectors of the earth globe, Fig. 1. Moreover, the increasing use of satellite communications all around the world has pushed the development in Ka-band, where more capacity is available compared to Ku-band. Ka- band space-based communications are recognized as the immediate future for satellite systems and this is highlighted by the evolution of launched satellites with Ka-band capabilites. The ESA ARTES project DragOnFly aims to develop a solution for a low drag electronically steerable array antenna operating with wide field of view (> 60°) over a 15% fractional frequency bandwidth at the Ka-band. At present, mechanical beam-steering is the preferred technique [1]. Such architectures are bulky because they require space to accommodate the mechanical rotational system. Since the antenna has to be placed outside the fuselage of the plane,

978-88-907018-7-0/17/$31.00 ©2017 IEEE

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of the plane, 978-88-907018-7-0/17/$31.00 ©2017 IEEE 3423 Fig. 1. Schematic representation of th e scenario. Depending

Fig. 1. Schematic representation of the scenario. Depending on the flying sector of the aircraft, the antenna scan angle needed to point to the satellite can change significantly.

this results in a thick structure protruding from the aircraft therefore affecting its aerodynamics.

For this reason, a fully electronic beam-scanning solution

is of interest because it can allow a significant thickness reduction. Phased arrays are commonly used to achieve electronic beam-scanning. However, the required wide-angle scan becomes an issue since the variation of the antenna input impedance causes significant mismatch. Moreover, the geometrical reduction of the gain with the cosine of the elevation angle further compromises the performance for far out scanning. The idea of this work is to use an array with limited scanning capability (i.e. up to 60°) and combine it with an additional architecture that enables the required field

of view enlargement (70°-80°).

A possible solution that addresses the impedance

mismatch is to use a wide angle impedance matching (WAIM) layer. This can be realized by adding a thin dielectric layer over the array [2]. This solution, however, does not allow maintaining the matching over the required field of view. Recently, metamaterial based solutions were proposed, [3], [4]. These works show that the matching for wide scanning in both principal planes can be significantly improved. However, the theoretically needed material

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2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP)

parameters can be practically obtained over a very limited bandwidth, making them unsuited for the current application. Another possible solution, addressing instead the geometrical gain loss, is the use of a deflector combined with a phased array with limited scanning capabilities. Two interesting concepts are represented by planar lenses and dome antennas. Planar lenses have the major advantage of being low profile [5], [6]. However, their scanning capabilities are limited (i.e. 60° in [5]) when compared to the described requirements. The bandwidth can also be an issue when such lenses are designed using metamaterial solutions [6]. Dielectric dome antennas illuminated by linear or planar arrays [7], [8] show good performance up to 70° scanning and they have no bandwidth limitation. The operational frequency band is then dictated by the illuminating array. The main drawback of such solution is the overall thickness of the structure. For example, in the implementations presented in [8] the dome is always at least as high as the array length. In this contribution, an attempt is made to combine the benefits of planar lenses and dome antennas. In particular, the characterization of a flat deflector is shown in Sec. II, whereas, in Sec. III, a “flattened” curved dome configuration is presented. In both cases, the deflecting structure is illuminated by a phased array and is represented as a surface characterized by an optimized phase shift distribution that allows maintaining a high gain level up to very large scan angles. The practical implementation of the deflector can be done by using metasurfaces (MTSs) [9] or shaped dielectric domes [8].

II. PLANAR DEFLECTOR

A planar superstrate, defined as a phase shift distribution, can be used to achieve the desired scanning. A limited scanning array antenna is used to illuminate the deflector that introduces the field of view enlargement. The architecture composed by the array and the superstrate is shown in Fig. 2. The analysis of the structure is based on a ray-tracing approach. In particular, each ray exits the array tilted by a different angle θ i . The superstrate is defined by a phase shift distribution ψ(x) that deviates the incoming rays to the desired scan direction θ o . The amount of deviation is computed according to [7]:

sin + = sin

(1)

The output directions of the rays from the array is arbitrary and can be defined by properly phasing the array elements. Therefore, the problem consists in the definition of three parameters, the phase distributions of the array elements, the phase shift introduced by the superstrate and the distance between the array and the superstrate. The phase shift distribution of the superstrate and its distance from the array are the same for all the scan angles. Indeed, the superstrate is designed to be passive. Instead, the phase of each element of

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to be passive. Instead, the phase of each element of 3424 Fig. 2. Schematic representation of

Fig. 2. Schematic representation of a limited scanning array antenna combined with a planar deflector to enlarge the field of view.

the array is considered as independently controlled and may change for every considered scan angle. Based on the proposed configuration, an optimization routine has been developed. The function to be optimized is the gain of the antenna, defined as

( )= ( ( ( )

(2)

where k 0 is the wavenumber in free space, L eff (θ o ) = L s (θ o )×cos(θ o ) is the effective radiating length (Fig. 2), η a (θ o ) and η p (θ o ) are the aperture and pointing efficiencies, respectively. The aperture efficiency accounts for the fact that the rays on the superstrate might be non-uniformly distributed [7], whereas, the pointing efficiency quantifies the effect of rays that are not tilted to the desired scanning angle. The superstrate has an even phase profile to allow the scanning to negative and positive angles and it is defined by a conic equation plus higher order polynomials terms

( )=

( ) +

(3)

where and represent the curvature and conic constant of the conic profile and the parameters are the weights of the higher order polynomial terms. These parameters are the variables of the optimization process to maximize the gain over the required scanning range. Another important design parameter is the distance between the array and the superstrate, in Fig. 2. In general, the further the superstrate is from the array, the simpler the performance optimization. This results directly from the fact that different areas of the superstrate can be optimized almost independently for different scan angles. However, one of the project requirements is to make the architecture as low profile as possible. Decreasing reduces the size of the areas that can be independently optimized, thus degrading the performance over the required scanning range. Therefore, a trade-off between the thickness and the performance has to be taken into account. A linear array of length = 30 at f 0 = 30 GHz was considered in the optimization. The array is assumed to be able to scan from −60 to +60 with good impedance matching. The output scan range to be achieved was defined

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2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP)

11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP) Fig. 3. Gain as a function of the

Fig. 3. Gain as a function of the scan angle for the planar deflector.

as = −80 + 80 . The distance between the array and the superstrate was constrained to be less than the length of the array, . This limit was imposed to achieve a total profile thinner than the state-of-the-art architectures using a dielectric dome to enhance the field of view of array antennas with a thickness [8]. The phase shift profile of the superstrate was optimized using an iterative procedure. In particular, a desired gain shape as a function of the scan angle was assigned as input, ( ). Then, the parameters of the phase definition in Eq. (2) and the distance were optimized so that . Some considerations have to be taken into account before defining the desired gain profile. In order to achieve a gain enhancement with respect to the ideal cosine scan loss profile (geometrical loss), the superstrate has to be larger than the array. In this case, the rays coming from the array can spread over the entire superstrate length, increasing the aperture of the antenna. However, the same aperture enlargement cannot be achieved over the entire scan range. Therefore, in order to enlarge the gain for large scan angles, the gain at broadside has to be traded and a reasonable gain decrease must be introduced. The gain profile used in the optimization is shown in Fig. 3, black dot-dashed line and compared to a cosine gain profile, black solid line. A 2 dB gain enhancement at = 80 is envisaged. The cost is a gain reduction of 1.5 dB at broadside. The result of the optimization process is also shown in Fig. 3, light blue curve, showing excellent agreement with the pre-defined mask. The distance between the array and the superstrate is = 0.6 and the superstrate is 3 times larger than the array. This allows for the aperture enlargement required to enhance the gain at wide scan angles.

III. FLATTENED DOME

The second approach is based on the deflecting dome concept, but, instead of using a dielectric structure of variable thickness, it makes use of a thin curved screen realized through MTSs [9]. A 2D structure, consisting of a linear array of line sources and of an ideal screen of

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linear array of line sources and of an ideal screen of 3425 Fig. 4. Geometry of

Fig. 4. Geometry of the array and dome configuration.

3425 Fig. 4. Geometry of the array and dome configuration. Fig. 5. Ray representation of the

Fig. 5. Ray representation of the behavior of the system array and dome in the reciprocal problem. The red cross denotes a ray that is falling outside the array extent and is therefore neglected.

infinitesimal thickness is considered here to illustrate the concept. The dome shape is set to be a portion of hemisphere, with the objective to reduce the overall thickness of the radiating structure. The insertion phase distribution on the screen is designed to increase the scan range of the array by properly bending the incoming rays. The procedure leading to the synthesis of this insertion phase consists of a number of steps. In the first step, the elements of the array are excited with equal amplitude and linear phase. Different pointing angles contained in the scan range achievable by the array (i.e. -60°-+60°) are considered in this step. For the generic i-th phasing of the array, ray

where

the ray launched from the j-th array element intercepts the dome (Fig. 4). The generalized law of refraction (1) is then applied to find the condition on the phase shift introduced by the dome needed to bend the incoming ray in the desired direction. The obtained function can be integrated to obtain the distribution of insertion phase to be introduced by the metaradome. This way, a different phase distribution is obtained for each scanning angle. In the second step, starting from the phase shift distributions obtained in the first step, a unique distribution is chosen, and imposed for all the scanning angles. It is noted that, having set a unique insertion phase distribution across the metaradome, not all the rays will go in the desired directions if the array is excited with a linear phasing. To solve this problem, in the third step an “inverse procedure” is applied, again based on the geometrical optics, but in a reciprocal sense. Rays impinging on the

tracing is performed to find the point

(,

x

Q

ij

,

y

Q

ij

,

)

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2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP)

structure from the outside at the desired angle are considered; at the points of intersection with the metaradome, the generalized Snell law is applied to obtain the direction of the rays emerging in the inner part. Then, by applying ray tracing, the points where these rays intersect the array are found (Fig. 5). Rays falling outside the array will be neglected. This procedure allows us to identify for each element of the array the required direction of the emerging ray. In fact, by reciprocity, if the rays are launched by the array in the directions defined by the previous procedure, all the rays emerging from the dome will be aligned in the desired direction. More specifically, the derivative of the array phasing is related to the impinging angle through the relation

Φ′

A

j

=−k sin

θ A

j

The integration of this relationship provides the phase of the array excitation to be applied. It is noted that different solutions will be found for any scan angle. The deviation of this excitation phase from linearity allows one to correct for the pointing errors found in the second step. Finally, in the last step, the performances of the radiating system are evaluated by applying a Physical Optics approach. Namely, the array elements are excited with equal amplitude and the phase determined in the previous step. The field impinging on the dome is calculated by applying a geometrical optics approach; the transmitted field is obtained by adding at each point the corresponding insertion phase (assuming no insertion losses) and the radiated field is determined through a radiation integral performed over the dome surface. In the considered example, the frequency and the length of the linear array are the same as in the previous case ( = 30 at f 0 = 30 GHz). The array is assumed to be able to scan from −60 to +60 and the output scan range to be achieved was defined from = −80 to + 80 . The maximum distance of the dome from the array is equal to = 7.5 , i.e. one fourth of the array length. Fig. 6 shows the radiation pattern for a desired scan angle of 80°. The green curve represents the radiation pattern. of the array (excited with the designed phase distortion) without the dome, the red one represents the radiation pattern with the dome and the blue one is relevant to the case of the array excited with a linear phase corresponding to a scanning angle of = +80 (without the screen). This latter case is affected by the presence of grating lobes. This problem is overcome by the introduction of the deflecting dome.

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10 array pointing at 60° without dome array with dome linear phase array pointing at
10
array pointing at 60° without dome
array with dome
linear phase array pointing at 80° without dome
0
-10
-20
-30
-80
-60
-40
-20
0
20
40
60
80
θ [Deg]
Fig. 6. Radiation pattern for a pointing angle of 80°.
IV.
CONCLUSION
Directivity [dB]

Design considerations for the development of wide- scanning antennas for on-craft satellite communications were presented in this contribution. The described solutions are based on a configuration in which a phased array illuminates a deflector. Two kinds of superstrates were investigated, a flat solution and a flattened dome. A ray-tracing based analysis was adopted for both architectures. Theoretical results showed that a gain increase can be achieved for very large scan angles, up to 80. The results show the potential of such solutions to achieve fully electronical beam-steering, allowing a thickness reduction compared to the current state- of-the-art solutions based on mechanical scanning.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The Author would like to thank the European Space Agency for the support in framework of the ESA ARTES project DragOnFly.

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2017 11th European Conference on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP)

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