Innovators at NASA Johnson Space Center have invented a portable communications signal booster that is currently available for licensing. Originally designed to improve communications for lunar missions, this lightweight, portable device can boost incoming signals to improve local reception for cell phones, laptops, satellite and Wi-Fi internet receivers without the need for power plugs, cables or batteries. This portable signal booster can be configured as an umbrella or window shade for easy deployment and compact storage. This technology has the flexibility to be designed in different shapes and sizes to offer variations in booster strength and degree of directional focus.
Communications are of paramount importance in conducting space missions, and an antenna’s signal strength is vital to the success of any mission. All antennas have a limited range. NASA needed a mobile signal booster that could be placed as needed to supplement any weak spots encountered by an astronaut crew at the site once a baseline system was deployed. Like all space hardware, the booster needed to be durable, compact and light weight.
This innovation successfully integrates the classic “Fresnel Ring” model into a conductive fabric structure. The result is an ultra-light, deployable device that acts as a lens to significantly enhance the realizable gain of an antenna.Figure1: Results of the gains with no signal booster ring (in blue) and with signal booster ring (red)
A Fresnel Ring design on the booster is specially shaped to cancel specific phases of the radiated signal. This makes other more desirable parts of the signal more prominent.
Different variations of shapes of the booster can be offered. A round, medium-size unit could expect to increase signal gain in all directions by about 7dB. A larger, elliptical-shaped unit could expect to increase signal gain in a focused direction by up to 15dB.
Figure 2 illustrates a prototype of the portable signal booster in a ring configuration that was tested in the Anechoic Chamber at NASA-JSC. The “sunshade” part of this prototype is 220 sq. in. when deployed and is about 31 sq. in. when folded for storage.
This technology has a patent pending under application SN: 12/894749, Deployable Fresnel Rings. It is related to a patented technology, U.S. Patent No. 7,126,553→, titled Deployable Antenna.
This technology is being made available through JSC’s Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to inquire about the licensing possibilities for the Deployable Fresnel Rings (MSC-24525-1) for commercial applications.