To support NASA's planned 20-year mission to provide sustained global precipitation measurement (EOS-9 Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)), a deployable antenna has been explored with an inflatable thin- membrane structure. This design uses a 5.3×5.3-m inflatable parabolic reflector with the electronically scanned, dual-frequency phased array feeds to provide improved rainfall measurements at 2.0-km horizontal resolution over a cross-track scan range of up to ±37º, necessary for resolving intense, isolated storm cells and for reducing the beam-filling and spatial sampling errors. The two matched radar beams at the two frequencies (Ku and Ka bands) will allow unambiguous retrieval of the parameters in raindrop size distribution.
The antenna is inflatable, using rigidizable booms, deployable chain-link supports with prescribed curvatures, a smooth, thin-membrane reflecting surface, and an offset feed technique to achieve the precision surface tolerance (0.2 mm RMS) for meeting the low-sidelobe requirement. The cylindrical parabolic offset-feed reflector augmented with two linear phased array feeds achieves dual-frequency shared-aperture with wide-angle beam scanning and very low sidelobe level of –30 dB. Very long Ku and Ka band microstrip feed arrays incorporating a combination of parallel and series power divider lines with cosine-over-pedestal distribution also augment the sidelobe level and beam scan. This design reduces antenna mass and launch vehicle stowage volume. The Ku and Ka band feed arrays are needed to achieve the required cross- track beam scanning. To demonstrate the inflatable cylindrical reflector with two linear polarizations (V and H), and two beam directions (0º and 30º), each frequency band has four individual microstrip array designs. The Ku-band array has a total of 166×2 elements and the Ka-band has 166×4 elements with both bands having element spacing about 0.65 λ0.
The cylindrical reflector with offset linear array feeds reduces the complexity from "N×N" transmit/receive (T/R) modules of a conventional planar-phased array to just "N" T/R modules. The antenna uses T/R modules with electronic phase-shifters for beam steering. The offset reflector does not provide poor cross-polarization like a double-curved offset reflector would, and it allows the wide scan angle in one plane required by the mission. Also, the cylindrical reflector with two linear array feeds provides dual-frequency performance with a single, shared aperture. The aperture comprises a reflective surface with a focal length of 1.89 m and is made from aluminized Kapton film. The reflective surface is of uniform thickness in the range of a few thousandths of an inch and is attached to the chain-link support structure via an adjustable suspension system. The film aperture rolls up, together with the chain-link structure, for launch and can be deployed in space by the deployment of the chain-link structure.