A phase II effort will build on the success of the phase I effort and move from demonstrating a passive antenna to an electronically steered 2D dynamically metasurface aperture (DMA). By appropriately tuning each element on the metasurface, using metasurface-specific algorithms, we will demonstrate a high gain electronically steered beam with fast switching speeds. This approach lends itself to minimize total power consumption, and by association, cooling requirements. A DMA will uses inexpensive components (e.g., varactors and DACs at a few $ each) and unlike an AESA, the DMA does not require phase shifters or densely packed transmission/receiver modules. As a result, production DMA antennas are expected to have a bill of materials (BOM) of around $100k per square meter, or less, making it possible to build large, high-performance—but relatively inexpensive—apertures. Further, in exploring the DMA for very large aperture systems, the Duke team has discovered a variation of the metasurface architecture that minimizes the number of components needed to achieve the requisite beam forming and beam steering performance, further reducing antenna costs. Ultimately, the DMA design maintains the advantages of a sparse phased array, but with the extreme field of regard associated with advanced active electronic scanned arrays (AESA) systems.
The antenna platform we envision here will harness commercial printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing techniques to produce the top metasurface layer. A multilayer waveguide feed will be fabricated with additive 3D printing methods and uses a conductive polymer that can be electroplated for low loss. This, advantageously, supports a very lightweight antenna and great flexibility in its geometry, traits that reduce launch costs in a satellite environment.
Metasurface antennas is promising for its excellent SWaP-C characteristics. It promises to achieve light weight due to its polymeric nature and low power consumption due to the use of metasurface technology. Its development costs and cost per antenna are also likely to be low due to the standard additively manufacturing approaches. We see applications in NASA efforts towards lower cost synthetic aperture mission for Earth science objectives, lunar, and interplanetary missions. These antennas can be used from L-band to millimeter wave.
This proposed technology enables rapid prototyping of light, conformal, flexible, and embedded electronics for the defense sectors and electronics industry in general. The lower weight afforded by using conductive polymers, will find additional applications in weight constrained applications such as aerospace and in applications that require customized integration.