The Phased Array Communication antenna for Mass-market Application Needs (PACMAN) project's goal is to research and develop integrated technology for the design and manufacturing of mass-market, low cost phased array antennae that can be applied in various domains, such as telecom, wireless internet, satellite communication, radars, large area astronomic antennae, automotive and security. The targeted cost price reduction is, depending on the application area, at least a factor of 10. If successful, mass-markets with high volumes and relatively high added value can then be developed, based on these new technologies.
The PACMAN consortium consists of a carefully selected group of one company and three scientific institutes that have a proven track record on the necessary disciplines that are required in this project. The partners are:
Research Activity Units
The project consists of four Research Activity Units (RAU's) that are targeted at answering the following technological questions:
RAU I: Connectorless Connection Technologies
RAU II (not applicable to ASTRON)
RAU III: Multi-functional RF Substrate Technology
RAU IV: Structural & Environmental Aspects
PACMAN's goal is to research and develop integrated technology for the design and manufacturing of mass-market, low cost phased array antennae that can be applied in various domains, such as telecom, wireless internet, satellite communication, radars, large area astronomic antennae, automotive and security. The targeted cost price reduction is, depending on the application area, at least a factor of 10. If successful, mass-markets with high volumes and relatively high added value can then be developed, based on these new technologies.
A phased array is a group of transducers that operate together with relative time, or phase shifts between the elements. The combined elements act as a single instrument that can be steered to distinct points in space. Arrays can be designed for transmitting and receiving electromagnetic and acoustic waves. Phased array systems are often referred to as Electronically Steered Array (ESA) systems. In general, one can say that the enormous flexibility of phased array antennas, caused by the fact that one can electronically direct its beam(s) and so get time/energy efficiency, is an essential element in enabling the enormous increase we see in wireless communication.
Within RAU I ASTRON investigated photonic technology and analog optical link development. Within PACMAN the workpackage on photonic link progressed fast. Some low-cost industrial modulators are found and tested. University Twente together with ASTRON tested the industrial photonic components.
Part of the RAU III are the ASTRON developments on antenna element design and production. Various concepts were simulated and tested. Demonstrators like VALARRY showed the first potential for low-cost production methods as alternative for the THEA-like Vivaldi antennae. Development and lessons-learned by VALARRY still is the foundation for EMBRACE, APERTIF and possibly EMMA and the SKA. Also the MECO FAP process, for making vivaldi's out of foil is result of PACMAN, still has high potential for low cost SKA development.
As part of RAU IV ASTRON investigated potential options to protect antenna and electronics from environmental influences. Several concepts were studies, simulated and tested. All potential materials were categorized by radio transparency by characterization of dielectric properties within the SKA band. The EMBRACE radome is a result of the PACMAN studies.
FLOWPAD3 system demonstrator
FLOWPAD3 (Foilbased LOW cost PAcman Differential Dualpolarized Demonstrator) has been defined as a partial active phased array antenna tile, which demonstrates the integration of the results of individual work packages within PACMAN. The concept is based on 300 - 1000 MHz bandwidth with 64 radiator elements / m2 with a dual polarized differential feed and use of extremely low noise amplifiers, 150 Ohm impedance and Tsys 35K (0.5dB). The antenna is constructed from an EPS / EPP foam structure with an interweaving antenna foil fabricated by electroplated copper on rotary screen-printed silver paste PET foil. On a polyester foil the pattern is printed with silver ink. With electro-chemical plating a copper layer is grown onto the silver layer. The technology is called Flexible Antenna Plating and has been developed by MECO Equipment Engineers. The LNA is mounted on a small PCB where DC is supplied via the coax/diff line. The small PCB will be mounted onto the foil with double-sided tape. For the housing of the demonstrator a low cost foam (EPS, normally used as packaging material) is used which, after research, turned out to be very suitable for radio astronomy purposes.
Three tiles types have been build: 1) A passive tile for antenna performance evaluation, 2) an active tile with passive beamformer and OMMIC LNA and 3) an active tile with passive beamformer and ASTRON mHEMT LNA.
Mechanical frontend cost is estimated below 200 euro/m2 including radome, antenna, structure, assembly, RF lines, LNA board and interconnection. System including LNA, analog Σ, steering and other local control is estimated below 600 euro/m2.
Active antenna (defined as an antenna with an integrated LNA) noise tests have been performed using the sky as a cold source and RF absorbing material as a hot source using a dedicated hot-cold antenna test facility. The feasibility of a very low cost high performance radiator has been demonstrated. The FLOWPAD3 concept was also used for a larger focal plane array in the UK at the Jodrell Bank Observatory.