Sandstorms, ionizing cosmic radiation, extremely cold at night... Mars is not very good! It is in these extreme conditions that Christophe Craeye, a professor at the UCLouvain Louvain School of Engineering, developed an antenna for the "LaRa" measuring instrument (Lander Radioscience). It will enter Mars in 2020.
Professor Craeye's laboratory has been producing antennas for more than 15 years and has a wide range of uses: road radar, magnetic resonance imaging, and tracking objects with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. The goal is always the same: remotely retrieve the data sent by the measuring instrument (vehicle speed, internal function of the body, position of the object or individual, etc.).
To gain this expertise, the European Space Agency (ESA) contacted UCLouvain (via the Antwerp Space Agency) as part of the ExoMars mission. The purpose of this mission is to study the rotation of Mars in order to learn more about its core composition and to determine if the planet is or will be inhabitable in the future. How? With the LaRa instrument, the instrument will communicate with the Earth via radio waves. Therefore, the importance of the antenna: the antenna receives and transmits radio waves. By measuring the Doppler effect (the difference between the frequency of the wave (earth-Mars) and the wave emitted during the return (Mars-Earth)), the antenna will enable people to better understand the motion of Mars, so it can Core composition. This is why LaRa is equipped with an antenna made of 100% UUCouvain: one receiving antenna and two transmitting antennas (one of which is a spare antenna).
Elasticity: The Earth's atmosphere protects us from the sun's rays and limits the temperature changes between day and night, which makes our planet inhabitable. Mars has no atmosphere. Temperatures range from 80°C during the day (the strongest sun) to -125°C at night. Not to mention the vibration caused by sandstorms.
Lightweight and miniaturized: The LaRa instrument will be equipped with multiple components, each of which is specifically part of the ExoMars research mission. Its total weight is distributed between its various components and must therefore be as small and light as possible.
The biggest feat of the UCLouvain team: from concept to prototype, it took only three months to make the antenna.
Advantages of UCLouvain design:
Innovative manufacturing process: An antenna that has been milled in an unprecedented shape – in addition to being extremely lightweight, no soldering means increased resistance to vibration and temperature changes. The receiving antenna has a maximum weight of 132g and the transmitting antenna has a maximum weight of 162g. They are suitable for the palm of your hand. The originality of the design has won the favor of ESA.
Excellent sensitivity: The antenna captures radio signals from any direction and focuses them on the electronics of the transponder - the area of the antenna center is less than 1 cm2 - to get the strongest possible signal.
What's next? Applications are being developed in the field of satellite communications. There are many industry collaborations in areas other than space, as well as in medical imaging, RF sensors, radar and telecommunications.