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24 March 2017

Best Paper Award at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in Big Sky, Montana, USA

The IEEE Aerospace conference is the biggest conference in the field of Aerospace Engineering in the world. Over 800 attendees from academia and industry come together every year in the beautiful place of Big Sky in Montana, USA. In this six day conference over 450 papers are presented.

This year, a team of the TE group from the University of Twente, together with ASTRON, won the prestigious best paper award. The awarded paper, Frequency Smearing in Full 3D Interferometry, is about radio astronomy. The application of 3D interferometry lies in a spaced-based radio telescope, that consists of a swarm of small satellites with simple antennas.

In a traditional 2D imaging with a radio interferometry telescope, the image of the sky gets smeared if it is generated using a wide radio bandwidth. It would look a little bit like spinning a wet painting around at great speed, smearing all the stars and features out from the center. Hence 2D imaging is always based on narrowband interferometry, to avoid this ‘frequency smearing’. The paper shows that in the case of a 3D mode of operation however, the resulting image does not get smeared at all.

A larger bandwidth means chopping up the total bandwidth of interest into fewer channels, and fewer channels means a smaller dataset that needs to be transmitted to the base station on Earth. This is important, because such small satellites will be limited in the data rate that they can achieve to Earth. On the other hand, a consequence of using a large bandwidth is a loss of sensitivity due to bandwidth decorrelation. A framework is hence developed to optimize the sensitivity of the telescope in light of the limited achievable data rate by making a trade-off between decorrelation and bandwidth.

Simulation results are presented using the Orbiting Low-Frequency Antennas for Radio Astronomy (OLFAR) concept as a case study.

The paper is authored by Pieter van Vugt (University of Twente/TE), Stefan Wijnholds (ASTRON), Arjan Meijerink (University of Twente/TE) and Mark Bentum (ASTRON & University of Twente/TE).

This was the first time an European team won the best paper award and the second time in a row that the best paper award was won in the section on Radio Astronomy and Radio Science, organized by Mark Bentum.

The picture shows the award, the congratulations by the organizer (from left to right: Pieter van Vugt, Mark Bentum and Bob Minnichelli from the Aerospace Company), and a nice view of the location of the conference.