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Knitting Together The Next Generation of Satellite Antenna

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Knitting and space aren’t necessarily two things you would put together. But that is exactly what a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and Oxford Space Systems are doing. Using wires thinner than a human hair they are developing a new style of satellite antenna for use in space.

The project is a collaboration between Nottingham Trent’s Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG) and Oxford Space Systems. These new antennas are created by knitting together high performance gold plated wire less than half a millimetre thick. The gold plating is essential for the antennas to survive the harsh conditions in space.

These new, lightweight antennas will deploy easily once in space. They will open out much like an umbrella creating the perfect parabolic shape for reflecting high frequency radio signals.

The antenna reflectors are made from high performance gold wire less than half a millimetre thick. They will be used to send and receive radio signals from satellites in Earth orbit.

The gold plating, while expensive, is essential for the antennas to survive in the harsh environment of space. Given the price of gold wastage is a prime concern for the project. The techniques used aim to minimise this wastage as much as possible.

The project has been made possible by advances in knitting techniques. If the project is successful they will produce membrane-like structures that can be shaped into parabolas, the perfect shape for antennas.

Funding for the project comes from Innovate UK’s Materials & Manufacturing Round 2 Initiative.

The lead on the project is Professor Tilak Dias who is head of ATRG in Nottingham Trent University’s Art & Design department. He said:

“Few people associate knitting with high-end space technology. However due to the advancements in knitting technology we can now knit an antenna which is extremely lightweight, cost-effective and robust enough to withstand solar radiation. This is a very exciting research project. And by working with Oxford Space Systems, we hope it will lead to the UK becoming a manufacturing centre for similar high-performance space materials.”

Also involved in the project was senior lecturer and researcher Will Hurley. He said:

“By making a satellite antenna as lightweight as possible, we can save on valuable materials and make the technology easier to deliver to space. And by applying novel knitting techniques, we can eradicate waste from the manufacturing process and save on valuable resources. When you consider that knitted gold wire can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds per square metre, waste is something we have to be very mindful of.”

Dr Juan Reveles, Chief Technology Officer at Oxford Space Systems, said:

“Our partnership with NTU will allow us to explore novel manufacturing techniques to develop proprietary light weight and cost competitive reflector antenna technology and will position the UK favourably to exploit the commercial opportunities offered by the buoyant New Space market.”

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