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Radio Technologies for Broadband Connectivity in a Rapidly Evolving Space Ecosystem: Innovating Agility, Throughput, Power, Size and Cost

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REVOLVE (Radio Technologies for Broadband Connectivity in a Rapidly Evolving Space Ecosystem: Innovating Agility, Throughput, Power, Size and Cost)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

REVOLVE addresses the rapidly growing need for performance and cost in emerging satellite missions focusing on antenna and radio front-ends targeting primarily telecommunication missions and exclusively civil applications. The project vision is achieved by cross-training of future leaders across key technologies and business skills to transform the EU space sector. REVOLVE places at its core the co-development of disruptive technologies that will radically enhance satellite radio links while drastically reducing costs and delivery timescales.

The project is structured around four technical objectives. The first objective (O1) is to ensure that all technological developments in the project maintain relevance with emerging satellite missions. Two objectives (O2 and O3) aim at the development of emerging technologies and their integration in satellite systems. In particular, O2 of REVOLVE targets the co-design of smart and reconfigurable systems that will deliver agility and miniaturisation. O3 in turn focuses on the application of emerging manufacturing techniques, such as additive manufacturing, and new materials, such as organic flexible membranes, on space subsystems with improved characteristics. Eventually, the fourth objective (O4) targets the agile integration of smart radio subsystems that will provide new capabilities in the space arena.

The REVOLVE project trains seven Early Career Researchers, all of whom are undertaking PhD studies in parallel with their employment to the project. The consortium consists of five partners (two academic and three industrial), all bringing World recognised expertise into the team. The project benefits from heavy involvement of Thales Alenia Space, Europe’s largest satellite integrator. The German SME Large Space Structures brings its leading technology on deployable satellite antennas while the Spanish technological centre Prodintec contributes state of the art manufacturing technologies. The team is completed by CNRS and its IETR laboratory, Europe’s leading centre for research on electronics and telecommunications while the consortium is led by Heriot-Watt University that hosts Scotland’s and the UK’s largest laboratory for space electronics.
In line with the project planning, REVOLVE has made significant progress towards 3 out of the 4 overall objectives described above.

In relation to O1: a thorough review of planned and anticipated missions has been performed collectively by all seven Early Stage Researchers as well as the supervision team. Critical input came from a number of experienced engineers at Thales Alenia Space. This activity delivered a deep understanding of the trends in satellite communications including the transitioning from broadcast to broadband services, the emergence of the fifth generation (5G) wireless telecommunication systems, a number of new space platforms (e.g. High Altitude Platform Systems) and orbits (e.g. LEO/MEO constellations). Significantly, the specific requirements in terms of radio electronics have been assessed in detail within the aforementioned framework. This exercise has informed the technologies targeted for development within REVOLVE and will be repeated annually to ensure the project maintains its relevance.

In relation to O2: a thorough review on techniques for modelling and synthesis smart RF devices, actuation technologies and signal processing for space has been performed. Following this review, a number of co-design methodologies that enable smartness (e.g. reconfigurability, system optimisation) and compactness (e.g. by design and/or by manufacturing including additive manufacturing) have been developed. This includes a flexible physical optics based modelling tool for antenna applications. An open source version of this tool has been made available on Github (https://github.com/HWUuW/POpen). Another tool that has been developed under REVOLVE relates to the resource allocation and payload benchmark under given traffic conditions. A third modelling tool relates to the development of the DVB-S2X transmitter and receiver, including the precoding functionality. Further advances in this objective include the mechanical-electrical co-design of antenna panel assemblies.

In relation to O3: A review of the state of the art on additive manufacturing techniques for radio electronics, advanced composite and synthetic RF materials for space as well as developments on packaging technologies has been performed. This review has led to the identification of some key technologies for further development. A process to evaluate and tailor additive manufacturing for space electronics is ongoing with first samples already received and tested. Likewise, REVOLVE has developed innovations in the exploitation of metamaterial technologies for advanced antenna applications. Developments have also been achieved in the exploitation of flexible surfaces as reflectors, including a detailed study on the folding of non-developable surfaces (which won the 2018 European Association on Antennas and Propagation award).

Activities towards Objective 4 are not scheduled until later in the project, where the various technological developments will be mature for their agile integration.
A number of contributions beyond the state of the art have been achieved in technology areas that include deployable reflector antennas for space, reconfigurable antenna technologies and payload evaluation tools. This is evidenced e.g. by the number of academic paper and conference contributions submitted in the framework of the project so far. To this date REVOLVE has contributed 10 papers in world class journals and conference events on these topics. Some of these contributions have been recognised by prestigious prizes, such as the 2018 EuRAAP award. Significantly research activities under REVOLVE have also led to new knowledge of more immediate commercial value. These have been protected by two patent filings so far.

In terms of training future leaders, REVOLVE has already achieved significant contributions including; the co-organisation with ESA of the 2018 edition of the European School of Antennas for Space Application https://atpi.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/esoa/home. The school took place 12-16 March 2018 at ESA/ESTEC. Moreover, ESA and REVOLVE are partnering for the 2019 edition of the same school to be hosted at IETR in Rennes between 11-15 November 2019, http://www.euraap.org/Activities/esoa/up-coming-esoa-courses. Moreover REVOLVE has achieved to position its Early Stage Researchers at the forefront of highly competitive international training events for future leaders in space technologies. This includes participation of a REVOLVE ESR in ESA Academy’s Concurrent Engineering Workshop (https://www.esa.int/Education/ESA_Academy/Participate_in_the_ESA_Academy_s_Concurrent_Engineering_Workshops) as well as the participation of another REVOLVE ESR in Caltech Space Challenge (http://www.spacechallenge.caltech.edu/).

Early Stage Researchers have been engaged with REVOLVE for approximately 1 year and have spent a significant fraction of this period in preparatory investigations and literature reviews. Significant further research outcomes are anticipated in the second half of this project and as the partial technology developments will be integrated in agile demonstrators. REVOLVE is hence anticipated to make substantial further dissemination.
Deployable antenna
REVOLVE Fellows