This innovation has been developed to improve the resolutions of future spacebased active and passive microwave antennas for earth-science remote sensing missions by maintaining surface figure precisions of large membrane/thinshell reflectors during orbiting. The intention is for these sensing instruments to be deployable at orbit altitudes one or two orders of magnitude higher than Low Earth Orbit (LEO), but still being able to acquire measurements at spatial resolution and sensitivity similar to those of LEO. Because active and passive microwave remote sensors are able to penetrate through clouds to acquire vertical profile measurements of geophysical parameters, it is desirable to elevate them to the higher orbits to obtain orbital geometries that offer large spatial coverage and more frequent observations. This capability is essential for monitoring and for detailed understanding of the life cycles of natural hazards, such as hurricanes, tropical storms, flash floods, and tsunamis.
Major components of this high-precision antenna-surface-control system include a membrane/thin shell reflector, a metrology sensor, a controller, actuators, and corresponding power amplifier and signal conditioning electronics (see figure). Actuators are attached to the back of the reflector to produce contraction/expansion forces to adjust the shape of the thin-material reflector. The wavefront-sensing metrology system continuously measures the surface figure of the reflector, converts the surface figure to digital data and feeds the data to the controller. The controller determines the control parameters and generates commands to the actuator system. The flexible, piezoelectric polymer actuators are thus activated, providing the control forces needed to correct any distortions that exist in the reflector surface. Piezoelectric polymer actuators are very thin and flexible. They can be implemented on the back of the membrane/thin-shell reflector without introducing significant amounts of mass or stiffness to the reflector. They can be rolled up or folded to accommodate the packaging needed for launch.
An analytical model of the system, which includes the membrane reflector, actuator, and controller has been developed to investigate the functionality of this control system on a 35-meter-diameter membrane reflector. The performance of this system under external disturbances such as in space thermal loads and W-error due to inflation has been investigated. A subscale breadboard has been developed, and the functionality of this control concept has been demonstrated by this breadboard.