A new patch antenna array composed of thin-film materials is proposed to create a significant improvement in the specific mass and specific volume of the antenna array. This innovation will enable the combination of the patch antenna array with a solar sail to address the need for a High Gain Antenna (HGA) option for deep space solar sail missions. The primary objective of the proposed research is to refine the design of the patch antenna array with capability to achieve 30 to greater than 50 dBi performance in either the X, K, or Ka frequency band. A secondary objective of the research is to present how this patch antenna array can be integrated into a solar sail architecture and deployment mechanism. These objectives will be achieved by constructing components of the patch antenna array from thin flexible materials and combining the antenna array with the structure of the solar sail. The patch antenna array deploys with the deployment of the solar sail, and the unique features of the antenna design create the required separation between the patch elements and the ground plane element of the antenna array.
A deployable HGA will enhance the capabilities of smaller spacecraft. The satellite paradigm has shifted considerably from the use of traditional large and expensive satellites to smaller and more cost-effective models. Advancements in technology are leading to small spacecraft like CubeSats developing the capabilities to perform interplanetary and deep space missions. A significant challenge associated with using smaller spacecraft for these missions is the communication framework required to transmit and receive data across such vast distances The proposed patch antenna array differs from traditional communications solutions in the fact that the aperture size is not restricted by the size of the spacecraft. The deployable thin film HGA approach will allow the antenna to be sized according to mission needs.