Real-time detection and compensation of reflector surface errors is enabled for large reflector antennas such as inflatable antennas for Earth and space science applications.

By probing the field on a small subreflector at a minimal number of points, the main reflector surface errors can be obtained and subsequently used to design a phase-correction subreflector that can compensate for main reflector errors. The compensating phase-error profile across the subreflector can be achieved either by a surface deformation or by the use of an array of elements such as patch antennas that can cause a phase shift between the incoming and outgoing fields. The second option is of primary interest here, but the methodology can be applied to either case. The patch array is most easily implemented on a planar surface. Therefore, the example of a flat subreflector and a parabolic main reflector (a Newtonian dual reflector system) is considered in this work.

The subreflector is assumed to be a reflector array covered with patch elements. The phase variation on a subreflector can be detected by a small number of receiving patch elements (probes). By probing the phase change at these few selected positions on the subreflector, the phase error over the entire surface can be recovered and used to change the phase of all the patch elements covering the subreflector plane to compensate for main reflector errors. This is accomplished by using a version of sampling theorem on the circular aperture.

The sampling is performed on the phase-error function on the circular aperture of the main reflector by a method developed using Zernike polynomials. This method is based upon and extended from a theory previously proposed and applied to reflector aperture integration. This sampling method provides for an exact retrieval of the coefficients of up to certain orders in the expansion of the phase function, from values on a specifically calculated set of points in radial and azimuthal directions in the polar coordinate system, on the circular reflector aperture. The corresponding points on the subreflector are then obtained and, by probing the fields at these points, a set of phase values is determined that is then transferred back to the main reflector aperture for recovering the phase function. Once this function is recovered, the corresponding phase function on the subreflector is calculated and used to compensate for main reflector surface errors. In going back and forth between sub and main reflectors, geometrical (ray) optics is employed, which even though it ignores edge diffraction and other effects, is shown to be accurate for phase recovery.

This work has direct application to reflector antennas, particularly large spaceborne inflatable antennas at X, Ka, and higher frequency bands. This method can also be effective in scanning or multi-beam reflector antenna systems in which the range of scan can be increased by phase-error compensation on the subreflector.

This work was done by Vahraz Jamnejad and William Imbriale of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-45373

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