UA Student Team Selected for Space Antenna Contest

  • March 28th, 2017
Student Katelyn Isbell, left, is part of a team of engineering students designing a small antenna for an international contest. Dr. Yank-ki Hong, center, is the team’s adviser.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A team of engineering students at The University of Alabama is one of six selected as finalists in an international contest to design better antennas for small satellites, called CubeSats.

“We are very fortunate because this is a worldwide competition, so we are very happy our students were one of the top six,” said Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, team adviser and the E. A. “Larry” Drummond Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the UA College of Engineering.

The Student Antenna Design Contest is held by the Antennas and Propagation Society of IEEE, or IEEE AP-S, the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology. The six team finalists receive stipends to help develop the antenna and travel to the annual IEEE Antennas and Propagation Symposium in July in San Diego.

The UA team is made of up three undergraduate students and two graduate students in Hong’s lab.

CubeSats are small, fairly inexpensive satellites put into orbit for research purposes, often designed and used by education and nonprofit institutions. They mostly hitch rides on other missions. As a secondary payload, they are dropped into a low-Earth orbit without the ability to move. They eventually fall back to Earth and disintegrate in the atmosphere after completing their research purpose.

Sometimes, however, CubeSats fail before their mission is complete. About half of those failures come from loss of contact with the CubeSats and the ground station, according to the proposal from the UA team. Antennas on CubeSats must be small, light and operate on less power than antennas on bigger satellites, yet still communicate with the ground.

The antenna developed by the students uses a flat, spiral antenna that can be fixed to the satellite without the need for mechanical deployment.

The UA students have proposed introducing a flat, spiral antenna that can be fixed to the satellite without the need for mechanical deployment, which can introduce the chance of mechanical failure.

“We are trying to do the equivalent of putting a car antenna in a window,” said Nikolaus Luhrs, a native of Orangevale, California, working on his doctorate. “We are taking a technology and applying it to a specific application where it’s not used currently.”

Although flat antennas have been on CubeSats before, they have not achieved sufficient circular polarization, meaning they do not have enough energy to communicate with the ground station. The UA students propose to solve that issue with their antenna design.

Along with Luhrs, the team roster is:

  • Woncheol Lee, a graduate student from Daegu City, South Korea.
  • Katelyn Isbell, an undergraduate student in electrical and computer engineering from Chesapeake, Virginia.
  • Peyton Morris, an undergraduate student in electrical and computer engineering from Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Cristion Oliphant-Jerry, an undergraduate student in aerospace engineering and mechanics from Columbia, Maryland.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.