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Benefits of Technology Transfer - Project: Large Inflatable Thin Film Antenna with Rigidized Support Structure
Collaboration helped achieve FCC certification, enabling inflatable antenna technology to aid relief effort
A technology with roots in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is benefiting from an ongoing technology transfer relationship with NASA’s Glenn Research Center and leading to faster on-the-ground communications support for disaster relief efforts and military operations. The inflatable antenna from the GATR Technologies® company can provide emergency Internet access, cell coverage, and phone lines over satellite networks via a compact package that can be deployed in less than an hour. Technology developed through a 1998 SBIR contract served as the basis for the technology, and the deployable antenna was further developed through a license agreement between GATR and the SBIR contract holder. Additional refinements, characterization, and tests on the technology were made possible by a 2006 Space Act Agreement (SAA) that tapped into Glenn’s antenna expertise and test facilities and resulted in the first-ever Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-certified inflatable antenna. GATR is now able to deploy this technology as a critical support tool for first responders from Haiti to Afghanistan.
Technology Origins - In 1998 Glenn awarded an SBIR contract to SRS Technologies to address large aperture deployable reflectors for space power and communications applications. However, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program had a need for inflatable antenna technology—and researchers quickly realized that the base technology under the SBIR contract could serve as the groundwork for the inflatable antenna’s development. NASA sought to address the large mass and volume penalty that conventional large aperture antennas place on launch missions while meeting space communications requirements. With this new direction and more than $1 million in additional SBIR Phase 3 funding, plans were made to develop the rigidized thin film and inflatable antennas and increase their technology readiness level (TRL). The result was the Large Inflatable Thin Film Antenna with Rigidized Support Structure, which combines thin film antenna technology, large lightweight rigidized space structures, and radio frequency (RF) technology. This work also verified that the technology could address NASA requirements for large aperture antennas for potential inclusion in future missions.
Location: San Diego, CA
Highlights: $2.2 million sales, field proven in disaster areas around the world
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