Design Engineering

U of T engineers design expandable antenna for microsatellites


General Aerospace satellite U of T

The expandable antenna is connected to one of two microsatellites that were launched into orbit on July 14.

One of the latest microsatellite device designs has been successfully launched into orbit. A U of T engineering-designed expandable antenna is connected to one of two microsatellites that were launched into orbit from Baikonur, Kazakhstan by the Norwegian Space Center on July 14.

expandable antenna satellite

The NORsat-2 micosatellite, designed and built by Professor Robert Zee and his team, in the Space Flight Laboratory’s clean room at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies. (Credit: UTIAS/SFL)

The very high frequency (VHF) antenna was designed to unfold from the satellite after receiving a command from the Norwegian Space Center to deploy once in orbit. The mechanical design and deployment mechanisms were designed by Dumitru Diaconu and Simon Molgat-Laurin of the SFL.

Professor Sean Hum and his research group in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) developed the radio-frequency design of a novel deployable antenna in collaboration with members of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), with the aim of reducing launch volume and mass.

“This antenna is a completely new type of deployable antenna — it unfolds to be more than three times as large as the satellite that took it into orbit,” says Hum. “This is the first time that a deployable antenna of this type has been contemplated and successfully used as a main mission antenna for a microsatellite.”


The device is being used to enhance ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications over the territorial waters of Norway.

One of the design challenges was how to make the device fit within the micro satellite. For the most part, antennas are fixed, taking up space and resources within the satellite.

The team used leaf spring technology to make the device deployable. On July 20, cameras on board the microsatellite confirmed the successful deployment of the antenna and automatic identification system signals used for collision avoidance on ships have since been detected.

Professor Hum worked on the radio-frequency design of this antenna with then student Jeff Nicholls (EngSci 1T3, ECE MASc 1T6) who is now an Antenna Engineer at SpaceX. The success of their design means that future satellites could employ more powerful antennas for communications, enabling higher data rates and more data intensive payloads to be used on these small satellite platforms.


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