The research will try to determine how to further push the limits of satellite communication.
Four professors from Texas Tech University's Center for Pulsed Power & Power Electronics and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering have been awarded a multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI) grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research worth $1.6 million.
The grant will go toward researching ways to enable higher power and higher bandwidth with satellite communications by preventing electron interference.
“What we're specifically concerned with for this MURI is the communication with satellites,” said Andreas Neuber, Horn professor and AT&T professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Satellites work at similar frequencies to microwave ovens, but they're more sophisticated, more powerful. In microwave ovens, electrons are produced and wiggle around, and those wiggling electrons are actually what's producing the microwaves. We want that. However, we don't want that for satellite communication. We're in outer space. There's no air. We have high-power satellites, 20,000 watts or more, but we also have unwanted electrons that appear at the transmitting business end.
“Those electrons can interact with the electromagnetic radiation, throw off the satellite transmission and cause a multipactor effect where you have substantial electron multiplication. With multipactor, the involved electrons resonate with the satellite signal, which saps energy and throws off the signal. Equipment can break and, in the worst case, you can get a blackout from the satellite. We're investigating the onset of this multipactor effect and trying to find methods to suppress it.”
The multipactor effect can disrupt everything from live intercontinental TV broadcast to satellite phone communication with remote locations. If Neuber and his team can reduce the effect, it will help create more powerful communication and increase bandwidth.
“Whatever we find, it benefits society as a whole in communication,” Neuber said.
Neuber is working alongside Texas Tech's Ravindra Joshi and John Mankowski, professors of electrical and computer engineering; James Dickens, the Charles Bates Thornton professor of electrical and computer engineering; and teams from the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of New Mexico.
The $1.6 million is solely for the team at Texas Tech, with the other universities awarded different amounts based on the proposed budget. The team at Texas Tech will receive around $350,000 per year over five years.