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NASA Tech Supports Radio Amateur With Potential Game-Changing Antenna Design

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by W0PV, Oct 27, 2023.

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  1. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Innovative and imaginative radio amateurs as career professionals continue to advance science, the state-of-the-art and make news. Hope you enjoy the story.

    73, John, WØPV

    Excerpts from NASA Tech Breathes Life Into Potentially Game-Changing Antenna Design


    Some 30 years ago, a young engineer named Christopher Walker aka @K7CKW was home in the evening making chocolate pudding when he got what turned out to be a very serendipitous call from his mother.

    Taking the call, he shut off the stove and stretched plastic wrap over the pot to keep the pudding fresh. By the time he returned, the cooling air in the pot had drawn the wrap into a concave shape, and in that warped plastic, he saw something – the magnified reflection of an overhead lightbulb – that gave him an idea that could revolutionize space-based sensing and communications.

    That idea became the Large Balloon Reflector (LBR), an inflatable device that creates wide collection apertures that weigh a fraction of today’s deployable antennas. Now, with an assist from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, funded by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which supports visionary innovations from diverse sources, Walker’s decades-old vision is coming to fruition. ...

    The story continues in more detail on this link.

    “There was no place other than NIAC within NASA to get this off the ground,” says Walker, now a astronomy and optical engineering professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “At first, I was afraid to share the idea with colleagues because it sounded so crazy. You need a program within NASA that will actually look at the radical ideas, and NIAC is it.” ...

    In 2018, Freefall Aerospace, a company co-founded by Walker to develop and market the technology, demonstrated the LBR’s potential aboard NASA’s stadium-sized stratospheric balloon, which carried a 3.28-foot scale model to an altitude of 159,000 feet.

    “The technology demonstrated by CatSat opens the door to the possibility of future lunar, planetary and deep-space missions using CubeSats,” said Walker.

    It might be difficult to believe this all started because a young engineer’s idea of dinner one evening was what most would consider dessert. Then again, one could say the proof was in the pudding.

    LU4DCW, VK5FUSE, AA5BK and 12 others like this.
  2. W0PV

    W0PV Ham Member QRZ Page

    Addendum: I was remiss at not noticing that the three members of the CatSat team that are identified and speak on the video are also FCC licensed radio amateurs:

    Hilliard Paige aka @W7HIL

    Shae Henley aka KK7JDD

    Walter Rahmer aka @KK7IOV

    Congrats & 73 to them too.

    John, WØPV
    LU4DCW, K0UO, M6ECG and 2 others like this.
  3. KL7KN

    KL7KN Ham Member QRZ Page

    K0UO and TA1TRJ like this.
  4. KA9JLM

    KA9JLM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Antennas that only work in a vacuum are way cool. :)
    N7SNR, WC6T and TA1TRJ like this.
  5. WC6T

    WC6T Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm not sure exactly why, but your comment, to me, says so much with so little.

    Keep 'em coming.
    TA1TRJ likes this.
  6. KL7KN

    KL7KN Ham Member QRZ Page

    TA1TRJ likes this.
  7. WR2E

    WR2E XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't get it.

    A spherical dish (or mirror) is not the same shape as a parabolic dish (or mirror).

    A spherical dish has a variable focal point.

    It seems that a tradeoff is being made, gain (of a parabola) for ease of deployment (of a sphere).

    Is that the idea?
    K2LED and TA1TRJ like this.
  8. KL7KN

    KL7KN Ham Member QRZ Page

    TA1TRJ likes this.
  9. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page


    Balloons have been used in many ways.

    Forty years ago we used to take weather balloons and foam up half of their shape, deflate the balloon , apply aluminum foil, and place them in a mount similar in design to the Edmund Scientific Astroscan 2001. Kind of a Dobsonian I would imagine. Took several tries because the foam would break off.

    You just use a line feed if you need to maximize.

    Arecibo was a portion of a sphere. They had line feeds, and a Gregorian feed system in later years. But no balloons;-)
  10. WR2E

    WR2E XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Why a sphere and not catenary? (which is quite close to a parabola in practice)

    Never mind, Mrs. Google told me why.
  11. W1YW

    W1YW Ham Member QRZ Page

    MS. Google to you there buddy!

    WR2E likes this.

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