Lancaster University’s new satellite technology gets UK Space Agency award

Lancaster University has been awarded £240,000 by the UK Space Agency to enable an unprecedented internet data rate provided by satellite constellations.

The award is for the design and creation of a high power, compact, low-cost E-band travelling wave tube amplifier to enable 5G and 6G high data transmission for satellites.

The 18 month project entitled “E-band Travelling Wave Tubes (TWT) for High Throughput Satellites” is led by Professor Claudio Paoloni of the School of Engineering.

Professor Paoloni said: “It is exciting to contribute to the enhancement of one of the most fascinating enterprises of our age, the deployment of constellations of thousands of satellites for internet coverage all over the world. The novel E-band Travelling Wave Tubes we will produce will enable satellite links with tens of gigabits per second requiring portable terminals with small antennas to offer an unprecedented ubiquitous data rate.”

The extraordinary growth of satellite constellations at low earth orbit (LEO) for internet distribution such as Starlink or Oneweb has opened the third dimension in 6G coverage.

Presently, satellites use microwave bands, but the demand of higher data rate can only be met by higher frequency and wider bands. The E-band (71 – 86 GHz) has been already adopted in the Starlink Gen2 satellites, however, the high link losses and the low transmission power from solid state amplifiers at this frequency require large terrestrial antennas.

This new project will realize a novel compact and high power traveling wave tube amplifier to enable an unprecedented data rate for satellite links.

Professor Paoloni’s team will design, fabricate and test the new TWT using facilities at the TWT Fab. The TWT Fab is the only academic laboratory in Europe with facilities for full state of the art production of sub-THz TWT.

The team includes Rosa Letizia, Senior Lecturer, Rupa Basu Senior Research Associate, Mohit Joshi, Research Associate, and two experts in high precision CNC milling fabrication, Jonathan Gates and Vincent Da Costa.

Travelling wave tubes are the first wide band amplifier ever built. Their working mechanism is based on the transfer of energy from a high energy electron beam trading in high vacuum to the radiofrequency signal. This mechanism permits the generation of more than one order of magnitude power at sub-THz frequency than a solid state amplifier.

Lancaster University owns the TWT Fab, led by Professor Paoloni, a state of the art facility to produce sub-THz TWT including RF design, micromachining and micro-joining processes, high voltage testing and high frequency testing.

This is the first round of investment from the agency’s Enabling Technologies Programme, part of the National Space Innovation Programme dedicated to supporting UK companies breaking ground in technologies to enhance spaceflight capabilities.

UK Space Agency Director of Investment, Craig Brown, said: “These projects showcase the diversity of skills in space-related science and engineering that are growing all over the UK.”

Growing the UK space sector and wider economy by supporting experts and organisations across the country is a National Space Strategy priority.