UK plans to launch 'knitted satellite' with umbrella-like antenna to observe Earth next year

Called CarbSar, the new satellite uses radar technology to peer through clouds and observe Earth around the clock. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Deployable SAR Antenna.
Deployable SAR Antenna.


Satellite innovation has just upped its game with the introduction of knitted antennas to capture high-quality images. This next-generation satellite antenna is lightweight, portable, saves valuable material, and is easily deployable in space. 

Scientists in the United Kingdom have been working on the launch of first-of-their-kind knitted satellites to study the Earth, which is expected to happen within the next year, the BBC reported.

Called the CarbSar satellite, it is being developed by two UK-based companies — Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and Oxford Space Systems. 

The antenna unfolds like an umbrella in space

The Surrey Satellite highlights that the satellite “combines it with an innovative deployable X-band SAR payload to provide high-resolution imaging capabilities night and day, whatever the weather.” 

This new satellite uses radar technology to peer through clouds and observe Earth around the clock. The antenna has been designed in such a way that the satellite could easily withstand the harsh space environment, and protect from solar radiation.

The radar antenna, knitted with tungsten wire mesh, is easily foldable for launch and can expand to form a large umbrella-like shape once in orbit. It forms a parabolic shape when fully opened to reflect high-frequency radio signals. 

The mesh of the antenna is made of gold-plated titanium yarn connected to a series of carbon-based rods. The high-performance gold wire permits sending and receiving radio signals in orbit, while the gold plating makes the antenna more resistant to the harsh space environment.

The yarn for the radar antenna was woven using advanced special knitting machines. The structure has been called a "wrapped rib" design by its developers. 

Application in Earth observation

This nine-foot-wide(three-meter-wide) antenna could be installed on a 330-pound(150-kg) spacecraft. The satellite's high bandwidth radar instrument will allow it to capture sharp optical images of the Earth's surface. 

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery is suitable to conduct myriad types of observation, including those related to commercial, civil, and security applications, including defense and security, maritime, disaster response, and environment and infrastructure. The mission's lifespan is expected to be around five years.  

“CarbSAR will capture high-resolution SAR imagery during day or night, and in all weather conditions, allowing the reliable provision of information for a range of applications,” the company highlighted. 

The small satellite operates at a high frequency, provides high-resolution all-weather imaging, and requires a low budget, thereby making it ideal for future space applications. If this Earth observation technology demonstrates its capability during the upcoming launch, then it may pave the way for the launch of larger antennas that can be easily folded and stowed inside rockets.

The satellite will most likely be launched aboard a US-based rocket.

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