079 - Reduced size Antenna for Earth Pulsar navigation

079 - Reduced size Antenna for Earth Pulsar navigation


Pulsar are rapidly rotating neutron stars emitting beams of radiation periodically, some with very high stability.

Since every pulsar has a different frequency, they can be used in a navigation system like beacons, and in timing (see EL1-006).

Emission occurs in all spectrum (infrared, visible, RF, X-ray). For space navigation, detectors in X-ray are preferred for their size, but detectors in the visual range could also be used; on ground RF is preferred for accuracy, but this requires big RF telescopes.

Researchers also discuss current detector technologies such as silicon pore optics, silicon drift detectors and “active pixel sensors” that might be used in missions that would adopt the pulsar navigation. 

The need for an autonomous navigation system and a pulsar’s natural time-keeping abilities will probably lead to pulsar navigation in the future.

Objective: Design a prototype reduced-size RF antenna, or antenna array, for usage with pulsars on Earth

Description of innovation/Tasks: 

  • Pulsar detection on Earth is limited in X-ray (atmosphere is opaque in that range), and RF detectors are currently large (typically 25m or more in diameter):
  • a novel way to focus EM energy at RF (around 200-1600MHz) on a newly shaped antenna, or onto an array of suitable antennas (exploiting for example aperture synthesis interferometric processing, see the Very Large Array), should allow to obtain a decent signal to noise ratio for the pulsar pulse train, at least for an appropriate class of pulsars 
  • tradeoff will include high gain steerable for single pulsar observations, wide beam array for multi pulsar observations, and inputs for higher navigation processing operational concept
  • survey the current Pulsar detectors technologies state-of-the-art
  • identify potential use cases for application (maritime freight transport, military ships,…)
  • design, develop and verify the prototype RF antenna, install it in a realistic environment and perform validation tests with real Pulsar data

Expected output: 

Prototype antenna, or antenna array, with associated design and verification report based on real data collected on Earth, demonstrating the recovery of pulsar pulses with adequate signal to noise ratio