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

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2021-06-30

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.
O1: Bring to fore new approaches for power-efficient and agile RF signal processing based on mixed signals and technologies, co-design principles as well as approaches inspired by optics
O2: Introduce into space fresh approaches for cost efficient manufacturing of high performance subsystems capitalising on combined exploitation of composite and synthetic materials, latest additive and subtractive processes as well as packaging technologies for smart systems
O3: Demonstrate step-changes in overall performance cost and size upon integration of smart and agile RF systems with signal processing capability that exploit mechanically actuated RF components, smart RF surfaces as well as innovative deployment schemes
O4: Accelerate the adoption of disruptive solutions for radio link management for the benefit of the European space sector and wider society by focusing on mission-informed RTD, developing pertinent demonstrators, establishing roadmaps for future development and exploitation and promoting innovation

The REVOLVE project trained seven Early Career Researchers to successful conclusion of PhD in parallel with their employment to the project. The consortium involved 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 Idonial 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 relation to O1: REVOLVE has innovated in the development of quasi-optical devices for beamforming applications in mm-wave satellite systems. In place of power intensive digital signal processing techniques to achieve beamforming using traditional phased array approaches, the proposed approach pursued techniques inspired by optical lenses that enable bespoke beam shaping of the wavefront emitted by a single localised radiator. A hardware demonstrator validated the proposed concept. At a system level, REVOLVE addressed the limitations in terms of on-board computational resources (themselves limited by the available DC power supply) by exploring mixed analogue-digital signal processing in the payload definition. By means of a developed simulation testbed, REVOLVE demonstrated that tangible solutions can be attainable upon exploitation of mixed-signal techniques and resource allocation.

In relation to O2: REVOLVE exploited co-development of novel materials and manufacturing processes towards new hardware capabilities that are beneficial at system level. New materials include flexible membranes that reproduce the electromagnetic properties of fully metallic mirrors as well as artificial metamaterials that can reproduce the electromagnetic properties of natural materials by virtue of mimicking the internal structure. Manufacturing processes that were exploited included both CNC and additive manufacturing. A total of five demonstrations were developed. 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).

In relation to O3: 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. In particular, REVOLVE innovated in mechanically actuated reconfigurable reflectarrays . Addressing the needs of small satellites, REVOLVE developed fundamental origami-based theory for the folding of deployable non-developable parabolic reflectors that was subsequently applied in a demonstrator of a deployable Ka-band reflector suitable for cubesats. Two hardware demonstrators were delivered.

In relation to O4: Towards this objective REVOLVE has innovated on a system-oriented evaluation of payload architectures. This approach ensures the relevance of technology developments by enabling the comparative evaluation of end-to-end performance of classical and more innovative payloads. Examples include the performance evaluation of quasi-optical antennas such as those developed in other research activities of the project, which demonstrated a superior overall performance at reduced resources. This work established a novel methodolody for benchmarking flexible payloads, which has been since recognized and adopted by actors of the scientific community and presently these developments are being transferred on flexible paylaods within Thales Alenia Space. The innovation of REVOLVE is further reflected in four patents filed on the outcomes of the project.
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 ; REVOLVE has contributed 37 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 four patent filings.

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 partnered 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/).
REVOLVE Fellows