U.S. Air Force researchers use 3-D printers and
other cutting-edge concepts
There is no Moore’s Law for antennas because size reduction and performance improvement will always be subject to the limitations imposed by electromagnetic physics and material properties. But steady advances in computer technologies, such as electromagnetic modeling and simulation and 3-D printing, enable antenna technology researchers to push the limits of possibility on behalf of the warfighters.
Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Antenna Technology Branch, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, are taking advantage of these technological advances to develop next-generation antennas. Experts say metamaterials show great promise for military antennas, but the technology is not yet at a point where it is being manufactured widely. To help overcome that challenge, Air Force researchers use a 3-D printer to prototype antenna metamaterials that potentially could advance technology beyond the more conventional microstrip antenna. Small, lightweight, low-cost microstrip antennas, which were invented about four decades ago, are used in military aircraft, missiles, rockets and satellite communications as well as in the commercial sector.
“It allows us a capability in rapid prototyping that we didn’t have before,” says David Curtis, the AFRL’s Antenna Technology Branch chief. “It’s yielding some interesting things. It’s creating new ground planes for antenna elements.”