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6-9 OCTOBER 2015
P. Cecchini (1), R. Mizzoni (1), O. Bayle (2), E. Saenz (2) A. Winton (2)

THALES ALENIA SPACE ITALIA, Via Saccomuro 24, 00131, Rome, Italy, Email:
ESA/ESTEC, 2200 AG, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, Email: olivier.bayle@esa.int
The design and validation of a low sidelobe resonant
slotted waveguide array operating at 35.76GHz is
presented. The antenna has been developed for the
Radar Doppler Altimeter Instrument (RDA) to be flown
on the Entry, Descent and Landing Module (EDM) of
ExoMars 2016 ESA mission. It is a highly coupled
planar resonant array of shunt slots in rectangular
waveguide. The engineering qualification model (EQM)
of the whole antenna has been subjected to a complete
RF and environmental test campaign. Good agreement
between measurements and predictions has been found.
A set of four FM units has been produced and tested at
acceptance level for the RDA PFM.

correct asset and cruise of the landing module. TAS-I

Rome is responsible for the design, manufacturing,
assembly and test of the entire Ka band altimeter
subsystem with TAS-I Turin as prime contractor and
ESA as end customer.
The RDA instrument embarks four identical antennas,
providing the radar with one Nadir-looking and three
beams symmetrically squinted of 20 along azimuth,
shown in Fig. 2. The range and velocity information
along the beams are needed to control the module
during the descent phase of the lander.


The ExoMars Program is a cooperative program

between ESA and ROSCOSMOS with participation of
NASA, aimed at investigating the Martian environment.
The industrial consortium is led by Thales Alenia Space
(TAS). The first satellite, to be launched in 2016,
consists of an Orbiter and an Entry, Descent and
Landing Module (EDM), shown in Fig. 1.
Figure 2. RDA Ka band beams
In Fig. 3, a photo of the RDA four antennas sub system
assembly is shown.

Figure 1. EXOMARS 2016 Orbiter and EDM

The EDM will be equipped with a Ka band Radar
Doppler Altimeter (RDA) instrument to monitor the

Figure 3. RDA 4 antennas subassembly




The key design drivers for the ExoMars RDA antenna

are summarized hereafter:

equivalent bandwidth of 300MHz @35.76GHz

(0.84% fractional bandwidth) including the
frequency shifts due to thermal environment
very tight sidelobe template: -35 dBpk between 20
and 90
very thin allowable thickness, to fit within the RDA
radome envelope: about 15mm
Low mass: < 300gr
High stiffness
Capability to withstand a long sterilization at 110C
aimed to eliminate terrestrial bacterial spores before

The proposed antenna is shown in Fig 4.

film (1mil thick) for its excellent RF performance, very

high allowable temperature and widely flight proven
compatibility with space environment.


The array feeding network is shown in Fig. 5. The

minimum array segmentation in two mirrored subarrays
has been adopted. This choice was dictated by the
selection of a monolithic manufacturing approach of the
array and a minimal distribution network to reduce
thickness and losses. This solution represents a valid
alternative to a more segmented array implementation,
as described for instance in [1], requiring the use of
space qualified brazing process with a very tight control
of tolerances.
Each of the two subarray is fed by a 1:15 series/series
slot divider, fed in turn by a shunt/series slot coupler
located at its center. The two antenna halves are
connected to a reactive power divider in the E-plane.
The antenna size is a trade-off between gain and
bandwidth limitation due to the series/series divider
1:15 series/series dividers

Cover for dust protection

Figure 4. ExoMars antenna
It is a highly coupled resonant array of circular shape
operating in linear polarization, made by 736 radiating
slots of shunt type cut on 30 rectangular waveguides (30
slots on the longest) machined from a single piece of
Aluminum-Ti6061. The radiating aperture fits a circular
envelope of 220mm of diameter and 15.3mm in height.
All surfaces are treated by Alodyne for protection from
corrosion. The antenna mass is less than 300gr, with a
first resonant frequency at 800Hz. A protective
dielectric film layer is installed on the front side of the
array in order to prevent the intrusion of Martian dust,
present in the landing phase, within the slots.
The sterilization process at 110C, the so-called Dry
Heat Microbial Reduction (DHMR), aimed at avoiding
the contamination of the Mars surface from terrestrial
bacterial spores in agreement with the severe planetary
protection rules, imposed stringent limitations to the
possible installation techniques and materials suitable
for the antenna cover. The selected material was Kapton

Input divider

Shunt/series slot coupler

series/series divider

Figure 5. ExoMars antenna feeding network

A circular tapered distribution has been synthetized to
match the sidelobe mask template. A deep control of the
aperture field distribution is necessary to preserve the
sidelobe profile. The pattern along the E plane is more
critical being only controlled by the 30 feeding slots,
each of them weighting one entire array row, i.e. a
waveguide. In the E plane the array distribution is
affected by a stronger coupling, both at radiated level
and in the region between each shunt/series slot coupler
and the first two adjacent series/series slots. The pattern
is less critical in the H plane as the equivalent linear
array achieved collapsing the elements by columns,
benefits of the averaging of errors by the correspondent
number of waveguides. In addition the coupling is lower
and the element factor slightly helps in tapering the
sidelobes in the far out zone.
The array was initially synthesized with the software
SWANTM. The presence of the Kapton film is taken into

account by a rigorous wide band fullwave extraction of

the slot model, including the dielectric layer.
An intensive trial and error process, based on accurate
FDTD analyses of the entire array done with CST
Wave Studio, was performed for finely trimming the
dimensions of the series/series slots in order to correct
the effects of coupling within the input junction and to
converge to the synthetized matching and aperture
distribution in the E plane.
The employed CST model was finely meshed by 380
million of tetrahedrons. The computation took about 9
hours on a Fermi Workstation equipped with 4 Tesla
Graphic Processing Units (GPU) of 1.03TeraFlops. The
model was also used for final performance prediction.
Fig. 6 shows a detail of the slots mesh.

Figure 7. Equivalent linear array coefficients from

predicted pattern in E plane compared to breadboard
and EQM models measurements (above: amplitudes,
below: phases)

Figure 6. Antenna CST FDTD model mesh

At the initial design stage, a manufacturing technology
approach based on sparkling erosion for both feeding
slots and waveguides was adopted.
In the first breadboard antenna measured the matching
and E plane patterns deviated significantly from
predictions. An iterative synthesis/analyses procedure
has been implemented to correlate the experimental
results to the manufactured H/W, supported through
disruptive optical dimensional checks.
In order to achieve the tight manufacturing tolerances
required (within15m) the design has evolved towards a
clam shell approach for the feeding waveguides. In the
EQM and FMs models, the feeding slots, feeding wgs
and radiating slots have been realized more accurately
by means of state-of-the-art milling techniques.
Radiating waveguides are manufactured by wire
sparkling erosion and short circuited by screwed caps at
their ends.
Fig. 7 shows the coefficients of the equivalent linear
array in the E plane calculated by back projecting the
predicted and measured radiated fields. The initial
antenna bb model denoted phase errors up to 20 over
several waveguides. Small and localized errors are
visible on amplitudes too. The EQM amplitude and
phase distributions are more in line with expectations,
with some residual deviations on phase within 5-10,
which are consistent with the design frequency band and
the final tolerance level reached by the reviewed
manufacturing approach.



The design has been validated trough an engineering

qualification model (EQM). The test sequence is
reported in Fig. 8. A good agreement between
measurements and predictions has been found. A set of
four flight models (FM) has been produced and tested at
acceptance level for the RDA PFM.

Figure 8. Qualification test sequence

In Fig. 9, the antenna return loss measured on the EQM
is plotted and compared with predictions. The nominal
operative bandwidth and the additional thermal
bandguards are highlighted. The overall equivalent
bandwidth is 300MHz. The achieved matching is better

than 20dB over the operative bandwidth and slightly

degraded at the upper band edge at the hottest
temperature (equivalent to 35.9GHz). The agreement
with prediction is good.

mechanical contact achieved at the feeding waveguide

covers and the low roughness achieved by milling
process of the inner surfaces. The following table
summarizes the measured performance on the EQM.
Centre frequency (GHz)
Bandwidth (MHz)


Return Loss (dB)

Peak Gain (dBi)


Ohmic losses (dB)

< 0.8

3dB Beamwidth ()

< 3.2

Sidelobe level (dBpk)

Figure 9. Measured return loss versus predicted

Radiated patterns have been measured in the 12x12m
Spherical Near Field System at TAS-I premises. The
EQM patterns at central frequency (35.76 GHz) in the
two principal planes are reported in Fig. 10 and 11 and
compared with predictions. The very tight gain mask is
overlaid to the patterns, demonstrating the fulfilment of
the low template of 35dBpk in the far out region.
Remarkable is the absence of grating lobes in the H
plane, denoting the design robustness vs biased
manufacturing errors in slots positions.


Figure 10. Measured patterns in H plane vs prediction

300 (including thermal
20 typical
(18 worst case over Temp)

Cross polar
Electrical delay(nsec)
Envelope (mm)

< -25 (from 5 to 20)

< -35 (from 20 to 90)
< -45dBpk
on all azimuthal planes
220 () x 15.5 (h)

Mass (gr)

Stiffness (1 resonance)


Table 1. Summary of Measured Antenna Performance

The EQM has been subjected to random vibration test
on three axis, in/out of plane. Thermal cycles in vacuum
have been performed on a qualification temperature
range from -90 to +70C.
In Fig. 12 and 13 the environmental test set ups are
shown. RF verification after each environmental test
demonstrated the robustness of the thermo-mechanical
design. In addition to standard qualification tests, the
campaign included a DHMR compatibility test,
consisting in three cycles of 88 hours at 110C in dry
air, aimed to demonstrate the robustness of the assembly
and selected materials to the severe microbial
sterilization process. At the present time, the DHMR has
been already performed on the RDA PFM at TASI
premises in Turin.


Figure 11. Measured patterns in E plane vs prediction

The peak gain has been measured by comparison to a
reference gain horn, and an average value of 35.3dBi
over frequency was found. Low ohmic losses are
measured despite clam shell, thanks to the tight

Figure 12. EQM antenna in the vibration test facility

Figure 13. EQM antenna in the Thermal Vacuum

In Fig. 14 and 15, the measured patterns of the four
flight models at the central frequency are depicted. It is
worth mentioning the repeatability of the radiated
performance versus residual manufacturing tolerances.

resonant and strongly coupled design required several

iterations through state-of-the art fullwave synthesis and
analysis tools before converging to the desired aperture
field distribution. The first antenna breadboard was
monolithically manufactured fully with sparkling
erosion and exhibited some unacceptable deviations
from RF predictions. After an extensive investigation,
supported by full wave modeling and optical
dimensional checks, the manufacturing approach has
been demonstrated to be not suitable to guarantee the
tight tolerances required (15m) and the design has then
evolved towards a clam shell approach, using very
precise milling for most critical dimensions.
The RF and thermo-mechanical designs have been
validated through a qualification test campaign,
including the compatibility test of assembly and
materials to the DHMR sterilization process. The test
demonstrated that the design is able to fulfil the very
tight requirements. Also remarkable are the low losses
measured despite the clam shell, achieved thanks to the
accurate mechanical design of the waveguide covers.
A furniture of 4 flight antennas has been provided to be
integrated on the RDA flight instrument.


Thales Alenia Space wishes to thanks Dr. Vicenti Gatti,

for his insights and his assistance on software SWAN,
and the Forestal s.r.l. company, in charge of antennas
procurement, for the valuable support given during the
refinement of the manufacturing approach.
Figure 14. Measured patterns of the 4A FM units in H



1. Brunasso, T., Guler, M. & Nguyen, D. (2009). A Low

Sidelobe Ka-Band Slot Array Antenna for the Mars
Sciens Lab Terminal Descent Sensor, Radar
Conference 2009 IEEE, May 2009, pp. 1-3.

Figure 15. Measured patterns of the 4A FM units in E



The design and validation of a slotted waveguide

antenna operating at 35.76GHz for the Radar Doppler
Altimeter (RDA) of the ExoMars 2016 ESA mission has
been presented. Very demanding requirements are
applied on sidelobe mask, thin envelope and low
mass/high stiffness. Additional requirements are the
compliance to the Mars dust storm present during the
descent phase and to the sterilization process at very
high temperature to be done on the flight units. The