A new antenna system being developed by UTS and Quasar will help ease the burden on satellite ground stations while allowing for simultaneous data collection from multiple satellite communication bands.

The limitation of legacy ground station technology could be a thing of the past, with a compact antenna system being developed that allows for multiple satellite connections at once.

UTS academic Dr Dush Thalakotuna is working alongside Australian space communications and intelligence company Quasar Satellite Technologies to help build multiband multibeam antennas for cryogenically cooled satellite ground stations.

The $1 million research project is being partially funded by a research grant received by Dr Thalakotuna, who was one of only a handful of applicants to successfully be awarded an ARC Industry Fellowship Grant.

According to a research paper by the Centre for Space Standards and Innovation, over the next decade, more than 57,000 satellites are expected to be launched worldwide. As such, there is an urgent need to fundamentally improve the way that satellites are supported, and how space data is managed.

Dr Thalakotuna, whose extensive background in antennas, radio frequency and systems engineering includes roles for some of the major Defence projects in Australia, says satellite constellations around the globe provide a wide range of services, such as earth observation, scientific explorations, weather forecasting, environment monitoring, communications, and navigation aids.

However, the large amount of data collected during a satellite’s mission can’t be stored on board due to limited storage capacity. Instead, the data must be relayed to earth via ground stations. Traditional parabolic dish-based ground communications antennas only have the capability to tune into one satellite at a time for communication and management, resulting in increasing levels of capital and operational expenditure in order to speak to the growing number of satellites efficiently.

This project aims to change all that.

Dr Thalakotuna says the work conducted during the project will contribute towards making a multiband ground system for Quasar’s next-generation product portfolio, allowing connection to multiple satellites in multiple frequency bands, significantly increasing the number of satellites a ground system can connect to simultaneously.

Dr Thalakotuna says a ground satellite with the ability to connect to multiple satellites at once will revolutionise the current ground station as a service market. But, developing such a system is very challenging and requires antenna technology that supports multiple frequency bands and multiple beams at the same time.

Quasar has addressed this challenge by using an innovative multi-beam phased array antenna in its first-generation technology. Similar or better performance to a legacy satellite dish is achieved by cryogenically cooling the antenna and the receiver radio frequency frontend in order to keep the antenna size comparatively small.

The first-generation Quasar phased array antenna technology is based on a digital beamforming architecture. The work done as part of this fellowship will look at new multiband shared aperture antenna technologies. UTS will develop the antenna technology working with Quasar’s engineering team who will develop the receiver backend.

When in market, customers will be able to access the patented true multibeam and all-digital phased array ground station system through Quasar’s Software-as-a-Service model.

The three-year fellowship is funded by the Australian Research Council to the value of nearly $418,000, with UTS and Quasar co-funding the remainder of the project.

Images provided by Quasar Satellite Technologies.