Four Army engineers recently won a patent for their satellite radio antenna that uses a novel cone design and deploys neatly from a spring-loaded gun.
The portable antenna revealed in U.S. Patent 9,929,461 was granted to inventors Amir Zaghloul, William Fraser, Theodore Anthony and Andrew Bayba from the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland, on March 27.
The spiral antenna covers the 200-400 MHz bandwidth used for UHF satcom radios. And to make it easily stowed and deployed on demand, the spiral-shaped satcom antenna is printed on a collapsible fabric cone with a 20-inch diameter.
Unlike other portable satcom antennas, it requires no assembly or tripod. When the trigger is pulled the printed antenna instantly and fully deploys just like the creepy umbrella gun in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff.”
After attaching the radio, and aiming the antenna at the desired satellite’s direction, it rests on an adjustable kickstand.
“Previously, antennas used by the military for satellite communications as well as other high-frequency communications are assembled in fixed locations. Such fixed locations, however, are oftentimes not conveniently located, particularly during periods of unexpected troop movements,” the patent reads. “When this occurs, the previously known satellite terminals must be disassembled, moved to new locations, and then reassembled. Such disassembly and reassembly of the antenna systems, however, is time-consuming and oftentimes not practical.”
The spiral antenna is also benefiting from the Army’s research on metamaterials, that is, a class of engineered materials that
exhibit highly beneficial electromagnetic properties, which are not naturally occurring or common synthetic materials.
A wideband (>4:1 ratio) electromagnetic band-gap surface (imagine hundreds of minuscule metal mushrooms) was shown to improve the performance of spiral antennas, said Dr. Amir Zaghloul during a 2014 seminar at Virginia Tech.
“When you use certain types of metamaterials or meta-surfaces we find that we don’t have to be that high above the ground plane so we can actually reduce the profile of the antenna or structure we’re using,” Zaghloul said. “Also we can use the properties of the metamaterials to give us impedance matching of the structure or antenna, which goes a long way in increasing the bandwidth, reducing the size of the antenna and give us better mutual coupling, reduced mutual coupling, in the antenna.”
Translated, the technology enables small but powerful antennas that deliver clear communications.
Military leaders need strong communications for mission success, during expeditionary warfare and humanitarian operations, with troops on the front acting as the eyes and ears of management in the rear. Satellite-based communications are often that critical link.
Now that the patent has issued, innovative companies interested in developing the technology into a commercial product can apply for a patent license agreement. Through technology transfer, businesses can leverage the government’s investment in research and development to build new products for military or civilian customers.
Dr. Brian Metzger, senior technology manager at TechLink, is helping businesses develop patent license application materials, including the required commercialization plan. Patent license fees are negotiable, and TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, provides licensing assistance at no charge.
“The Army’s design provides several advantages over legacy antennas,” said Metzger. “The most obvious to the operating forces will be in the size and weight of the system, but also speed in deployment and signal clarity for on-the-move voice and data.”