Astrobotic Developing Ground Penetrating Radar with NASA Funding

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology for additional funding to continue development of a compact, highly efficient ground penetrating radar (GPR) antenna that will allow rovers to characterize resources under the surface of the moon and other planets.

“The benefits of such technology could enable the characterization of lunar lava tubes, subsurface water-ice, and the location of planetary ore deposits in a manner that is both affordable and simple to integrate with larger systems,” Astrobotic said in its proposal summary.

NASA selected the proposal for continued funding under its Small Business Research Innovation (SBIR) program. The phase II award is worth up to $750,000. The project received a smaller SBIR phase I award.

Astrobotic has teamed with Ohio State University to develop the technology.

“Manufacturability will be assessed and real performance will be validated during Phase II and will culminate with an engineering model of the antenna that can be easily infused into future missions through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, Tipping Point program, or a Phase III opportunity that leverages any of Astrobotic’s exiting Phase I or Phase II related contracts,” the company said.

“In addition to surveying planetary subsurfaces, there are numerous applications that demand mobile GPR,” the proposal summary added. “These applications include construction, land surveying, mapping building integrity, characterizing hazardous waste leakage, and identifying archeological artifacts.”

The proposal summary follows.

Under-Rover Ultra-Wide Band Non-Contact Ground Penetrating Radar Antenna
Subtopic: Technologies for Active Microwave Remote Sensing

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

Principal Investigator
Troy Arbuckle

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Creating a ground penetrating radar (GPR) antenna for both Earth and planetary science applications requires high efficiency, robust operational frequency, as well as low size, weight, and power (SWaP) features. Furthermore, the value of an antenna that provides these core competencies and that is versatile enough to be integrated on numerous platforms is of high value to NASA and the commercial space industry.

The benefits of such technology could enable the characterization of lunar lava tubes, subsurface water-ice, and the location of planetary ore deposits in a manner that is both affordable and simple to integrate with larger systems.

The challenge is that this solution does not currently exist in the market. Choosing a solution that meets these criteria often requires combining multiple antennas, thereby increasing SWaP and complexity.

The proposed antenna solution intends to resolve this challenge, and the proposing team of Astrobotic Technology, Inc. (Astrobotic) and the Ohio State University (OSU) have the expertise and technological development to do so.

The performance and operational requirements of the proposed antenna are summarized as follows:

  • Extremely wide operating frequency range from 120 MHz to 2000 MHz (bandwidth of 16:1)
  • Effective ground coupling from a clearance of 8 cm – 20 cm
  • Very low profile for ease of mounting under a mobile platform
  • Low antenna ringing with good radiation efficiency
  • Ground-independent antenna impedance matching condition
  • Low sidelobe and backlobe above ground to minimize impacts from mounting different platforms
  • Compact size (less than 75 cm (L) × 26 cm (W) × 7 cm (H)
  • Simple lightweight structure (~300g)
  • Space qualified in accordance with the thermal vacuum, shock, and vibration mission environments

Potential NASA Applications

The success of the Phase I research will lead to a novel under-rover ultra-wide band GPR antenna design. Manufacturability will be assessed and real performance will be validated during Phase II and will culminate with an engineering model of the antenna that can be easily infused into future missions through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, Tipping Point program, or a Phase III opportunity that leverages any of Astrobotic’s exiting Phase I or Phase II related contracts.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

In addition to surveying planetary subsurfaces, there are numerous applications that demand mobile GPR. These applications include construction, land surveying, mapping building integrity, characterizing hazardous waste leakage, and identifying archeological artifacts. Furthermore, Astrobotic would be a user of this antenna for future rovers that require GPR capabilities.

Duration: 24 months