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Testing of the MESSENGER spacecraft phased-array antenna

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3 Author(s)
Wallis, R.E. ; Appl. Phys. Lab., Johns Hopkins Univ., Laurel, MD, USA ; Bruzzi, J.R. ; Malouf, P.M.

The MESSENGER spacecraft, designed to orbit the planet Mercury, uses the first electronically scanned phased-array antenna for a deep-space telecommunication application. Two lightweight phased arrays, mounted on opposite sides of the spacecraft, provide the high-gain downlink coverage. Techniques for measurement of the phased-array antenna system include ambient temperature measurements in a compact antenna range, thermal vacuum testing, and spacecraft-level testing. There have been two novel developments in the characterization of the phased-array system. The first is a "gain envelope" response, which is a measurement of the gain of the array at the intended scan angle as the array is electrically scanned in 1° increments. This response was produced through a combination of hardware and test software to synchronize the gain measurement with the mechanical and electrical scanning. The second is a phase-steering verification test that utilizes couplers in each steered element in conjunction with previously measured element patterns to confirm that the antenna beam is steered property. This method allows functional verification of the phased-array system while radiating into an RF-absorber-lined hat during spacecraft-level tests.

Published in:

Antennas and Propagation Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:47 ,  Issue: 1 )