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Orbiting Low Frequency Antennas for Radio astronomy

Project Number: 10556
Project Manager: Dr. ir. Marc Bentum
Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science
Tel.: +31-53-4892108
Email: m.j.bentum@utwente.nl


One of the last unexplored frequency ranges in radio astronomy is the frequency band below 30 MHz. This band is scientifically interesting for exploring the early cosmos at high hydrogen red shifts, the so-called dark-ages. This frequency range is also well-suited for discovery of planetary and solar bursts in other solar systems, for obtaining a tomographic view of space weather, and for many other astronomical areas of interest [1]. Because of the ionospheric scintillation below ~30 MHz and the opaqueness of the ionosphere below ~15 MHz, earth-bound radio astronomy observations in those bands would be severely limited in sensitivity and spatial resolution, or would be entirely impossible. A radio telescope in space would not be hampered by the earth’s ionosphere, but up to now such a telescope was technologically not feasible. However, extrapolation of current technological advancements in signal processing and nano/femto satellite systems imply that distributed low frequency radio telescopes in space could be feasible in about 10 years time [7][8].

To achieve sufficient spatial resolution, a low frequency telescope in space needs to have an aperture diameter of over 10 to 100 km. Clearly, only a distributed aperture synthesis telescope-array would be a practical solution. In addition, there are great reliability and scalability advantages by distributing the control and signal processing over the entire telescope array. In this proposal we present a research project on autonomous sensor systems in space to explore this new frequency band for radio astronomy. We expect this route will lead to new science by breakthroughs in experimental astronomy and engineering sciences.

The ultimate aim of the proposed research is to develop scalable autonomous nano satellite prototypes, demonstrated in the lab. To realize this ambition we need to work multidisciplinary. The first nine months of the proposal (phase A) will be used for initial research and setting requirements for the space mission. Hereafter three research topics will be worked on: 1) Mission analysis, design and overall system engineering 2) wireless communication and 3) distributed autonomous signal processing. We aim for three Ph.D. students for these three research topics, a postdoc for the initial phase and electronics design, and (co-applicant) technicians for the development and realization of the prototypes. We will co-operate with six industrial partners with experience in various fields from the IC development to the Space Mission level (AEMICS, AXIOM-IC, SystematIC, National Semiconductor, Dutch Space and ISIS). The results will be validated by three flight units, which can be launched into space and work as a formation flying radio-astronomy array.

Project duration: 1-1-2010 / 1-11-2014
Project budget: 1.052 M-€
Number of person/years: 4.4 fte / year
Project Coordinator: ASTRON
Participants: ASTRON, UT, TU Delft, ISIS, AEMICS, National Semiconductors B.V., SystematIC Design B.V., Axiom IC B.V., Dutch Space B.V.
Project budget CTIT: 350 k-€ / 252 k-€ funding
Number of person/years CTIT: 1.2 fte/year
Involved groups: Telecommunication Engineering (TE)