The European Space Agency (ESA) has tested a transponder antenna with a diameter of 5 meters in its Hertz radio frequency test chamber. This antenna is the largest ever antenna to be tested in this chamber and it will operate down on the ground to help calibrate the Biomass mission charting all the forests on Earth.
“This is a particularly challenging test campaign both in terms of the size of the antenna and the very low P-band frequency that Biomass will be using, which allows it to pierce through forest canopies to acquire individual trees,” explains ESA antenna engineer Luis Rolo, overseeing the test campaign.
“Usually when we test a large satellite here, its antenna is significantly smaller, typically between 0.5 and 2 meters across. But this entire structure is a radiating antenna in its own right, its sides coming near to the chamber walls.”
“What this means is that the testing process highlights some aspects of the chamber we’ve never seen before, even after many years of testing. But we’ve come up with a measurement method involving multiple acquisitions from different spots within the chamber, combined carefully to subtract such environmental effects, yielding very accurate results”, adds Rolo.
Part of ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands, the metal-walled ‘Hybrid European Radio Frequency and Antenna Test Zone’ chamber is shut off from all external influences. Its internal walls are studded with radio-absorbing ‘anechoic’ foam pyramids, allowing radio-frequency testing without any distorting reflections.
Its name starts with ‘Hybrid’ because the chamber can assess radio signals from antennas both in localized ‘near-field’ terms or else on a ‘far-field’ basis as if the signal has crossed thousands of kilometers of space.
Due to be launched next year, Biomass will deploy a massive 12-m diameter reflector to harness P-band radar signals to perform a five-year census of all Earth's trees.
Based in Australia, this transponder will be integrated onto a mobile positioning system inside a protective radome, allowing it to track the Biomass satellite moving across the sky. The transponder antenna will reflect radar signals from Biomass back to it, to help confirm the mission is operating optimally. The transponder was developed and built by the Italian company IDS.