G. Pupillo et al., "Medicina array demonstrator: calibration and radiation pattern characterization using a UAV-mounted radio-frequency source," Experimental Astronomy, V39, no. 2, pp405-421, June 2015.
One of the most challenging aspects of the new-generation Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) radio telescopes is instrument calibration. The operational LOw-Frequency ARray (LOFAR) instrument and the future LFAA element of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) require advanced calibration techniques to reach the expected outstanding performance. In this framework, a small array, called Medicina Array Demonstrator (MAD), has been designed and installed in Italy to provide a test bench for antenna characterization and calibration techniques based on a flying artificial test source. A radio-frequency tone is transmitted through a dipole antenna mounted on a micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (hexacopter) and received by each element of the array. A modern digital FPGA-based back-end is responsible for both data-acquisition and data-reduction. A simple amplitude and phase equalization algorithm is exploited for array calibration owing to the high stability and accuracy of the developed artificial test source. Both the measured embedded element patterns and calibrated array patterns are found to be in good agreement with the simulated data. The successful measurement campaign has demonstrated that a UAV-mounted test source provides a means to accurately validate and calibrate the full-polarized response of an antenna/array in operating conditions, including consequently effects like mutual coupling between the array elements and contribution of the environment to the antenna patterns. A similar system can therefore find a future application in the SKA-LFAA context.
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