L3Harris redesigns reflector antenna for small satellite market

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WASHINGTON – L3Harris Technologies has redesigned its patented unfurlable mesh reflector antenna to meet growing demand from firms building satellites weighing roughly 180 to 1,000 kilograms.

The latest version, called Smallsat Perimeter Truss, is one-third smaller and half the weight of the Advanced Perimeter Truss, which L3Harris produces for large government and commercial geostationary satellites.

Since L3Harris began producing mesh antennas in the 1970s, the firm has built about 100 for large communications satellites including NASA’s constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.

“They have been bespoke program-by-program builds,” Tom Campbell, L3Harris general manager for space antennas and structures, told SpaceNews. “Each one was a little bit different.”

As small satellites became increasingly popular in recent years, L3Harris redesigned the antenna to reduce its size and weight. The company also adapted the design for high-rate production, Campbell said at the Satellite 2020 conference.

The SmallSat Perimeter Truss is a single product designed to scale for various applications.

“To a great extent the new antennas will be built with the same components and processes,” Campbell said. “When you do that, you can leverage your supply chain better. You also unlock the potential for automation.”

L3Harris is manufacturing the first Smallsat Perimeter Truss for a customer. Campbell declined to name the customer but said the antenna will be launched within a year or two.

Companies large and small have struggled to deploy mesh antennas in recent years.

The antennas are challenging because when unfurled in orbit, they must remain in the proper position.

“We’re often trying to set this parabolic mesh surface very accurately, to within the thickness of a human hair across a 25-meter span of an antenna,” Campbell said. To position the antennas accurately, engineers must understand how the mesh material will respond to zero gravity, sun, shade and radiation, he added.