Tech Briefs

Phase Calibration of Antenna Arrays Aimed at Spacecraft

A document describes a method of calibrating phase differences among ground antennas in an array so that the maximumintensity direction of the far-field interference pattern of the array coincides with the direction for aiming the antennas to enable radio communication with a distant spacecraft. The method pertains to an array typically comprising between two and four 34- m (or similar size) antennas. The antennas are first calibrated pair-wise to maximize the uplink power received at a different spacecraft that is close enough for communication via a single ground antenna.

In the calibration procedure, the phase of the signal transmitted by one of the antennas is ramped through a complete cycle, thereby causing the interference pattern to sweep over this closer spacecraft and guaranteeing that, at some point during the sweep, this spacecraft is illuminated at maximum intensity. The varying received uplink power is measured by a receiver in the closer spacecraft and the measurement data are transmitted to a ground station to enable determination of the optimum phase adjustment for the direction to the closer spacecraft. This adjustment is then translated to the look direction of the distant spacecraft, which could not be reached effectively using only one antenna.

This work was done by Victor Vilnrotter, Dennis Lee, Leslie Paal, Ryan Mukai, and Timothy Cornish of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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