University of New South Wales (UNSW) engineering graduate, Thomas Cooney, has developed a circuit board designed to process radar signals for an Australian satellite that will monitor water resources.
The proposed satellite will scan 300 kilometre-wide sections of land with a radar beam, measuring the water content in the soil.
According to Cooney, a satellite's radar works by transmitting bursts of high-frequency radio waves at intervals of less than a microsecond. The radar then switches into receiver mode and listens for the echo. These radio waves are processed into images of the Earth's surface.
“The new circuit board would allow the radar to reduce its pulse repetition frequency, or the rate at which radio signals are transmitted,” he said in a statement. “This will ultimately decrease the cost of operation and improve image quality without sacrificing the imaging rate.”
Cooney undertook the work as part of an Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research project.
He also worked with a UK aerospace company to identify the circuit board’s system requirements and how to incorporate them. Cooney then mocked up the circuit schematic using computer software.
“The most rewarding thing about the project was getting the finished board back from the assembler, and holding in my hands a design I had been staring at on a computer screen for months,” he said.
Cooney’s design and thesis was submitted to the Victorian Space Science Education Centre which coordinates a student scholarship with NASA. He won the data processing and electronics category, and after making a detailed submission to NASA, was selected as the overall winner.
During the NASA internship which begins this month, he will be working on a physical experiment that could be conducted on the International Space Station.
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