Skip to Main Content
Two NASA deep-space probes, Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) and New Horizons (NH), are moving towards the extremes of our solar system (Mercury and Pluto). The delivery of the science in these extreme environments is a challenge, and the missions require unique approaches. MESSENGER'S antenna system utilizes the first electronically scanned high-gain array for a deep-space telecommunication application. The array, which provides the high-data-rate downlink, is scanned in one dimension and is circularly polarized. Although a linearly polarized array would have satisfied the minimum mission science data rate requirements, MESSENGER'S circularly polarized array doubles it. To achieve this, the Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) developed an innovative technique to produce circular polarization from a narrow-wall slotted waveguide array. The new technique uses short parasitic monopoles mounted to the exterior of the waveguides. The result is a simple, lightweight, and all-metal circularly polarized array capable of operating at +300 OC, and a variety of measurement techniques were used to verify phased-array antenna system performance during qualification. The NH antenna system is a stack arrangement of a high-gain antenna (HGA), medium-gain antenna (MGA), and low-gain antenna (LGA). To minimize mission operating costs, the spacecraft is spin stabilized at all times except during encounters to maintain a fixed spacecraft attitude. This approach and application for a narrow beamwidth antenna is unique for a deep-space mission, resulting in new approaches to accurately measure the gain and radio-frequency (RF) boresight direction in a compact range facility. Because of the importance of the HGA function to overall mission success, testing of the HGA system at operational temperatures of -200 OC was also performed. Recent in-flight measurement of the NH HGA pattern verified ground - alignments. The RF design of the NH antenna also forms the baseline RF design for a deployable antenna system JHU/APL is developing called the Hybrid Deployable Antenna (HDA). The HDA combines a fixed parabolic dish with a deployable/inflatable reflector annulus that greatly increases antenna area after launch. This concept provides a high-payoff deployable antenna system that is being developed to address the "all or nothing" risk by providing a viable backup capability. This paper discusses some of the challenges to advance this concept for a future deep-space mission.