News Feature | March 23, 2023

Back Channel — New Composite Safer Than SPE, Taiwan Making Inroads Into Global Space Supply Chain, China "Most Immediate Threat" In Weaponizing Space Technology, And More

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By John Oncea, Editor


Back Channel presents the most captivating news and innovations in RF and microwaves. This week, we look at why Lockheed Martin is giving money to Northumbria University, how RF is helping find missing people, an end to my wife and me debating sell-by dates, and more.

Engineers at Purdue University (Boiler Up!) led by Vilas Pol, a Purdue professor in the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, have developed a new composite material that is safer to use in those batteries than traditional solid polymer electrolyte, or SPE, technologies, the University announced. Pol’s new, patent-pending composite material improves upon traditional SPE materials in several ways, including a wide voltage window of around 4.8 volts, an optimized ionic conductivity of around 2.4*10^4 microsiemens, excellent thermal stability up to around 330 degrees Celsius, and stability to cell damage, leading to a huge increase in safety.

Lockheed Martin is backing a Northumbria University (Go Cats?) project using specialized photovoltaic (PV) cells to collect laser power from space and convert it into usable energy for future space and lunar vehicles. According to the university, future applications of the technology could include beaming electricity to Earth from space, delivering a consistent source of clean energy. Professor Jon Woodward, faculty pro-vice-chancellor for engineering and environment, said, “Northumbria University is a U.K. front-runner in research into photovoltaics and solar energy and our reputation for world-leading research in space and satellite technologies has grown exponentially in recent years. This exciting project with Lockheed Martin combines these areas of excellence and will enable us to innovate further to find new ways to generate and store renewable energy.”

Taiwan is making inroads into the global space supply chain and is now eyeing satellite components, reports DigiTimes Asia. Arthur Wang, the chairman of RF and microwave product designer Rapidtek Technologies, noted that Taiwanese companies have gained international recognition when it comes to the development, manufacturing, testing, and system integration of phased array antennas. Su-Wei Chang, founder and CEO of 5G mm Wave total beamforming solutions provider TMY Technology, noted that the concentrated and complete supply chain is Taiwan's greatest advantage to tapping into the international LEO satellite market, though the hitherto discrete suppliers have to be linked up. LEO satellite supply chain includes a ground station, dish antenna, signal transmitter, power amplifier, PCB, copper foil substrate, power supply, and semiconductors - all of these play into Taiwan's strength.

“The thought of a missing child is the scariest thought possible for a lot of parents,” writes “But a small wristband may be a beacon of hope for those with loved ones who are considered high-risk.” The device uses RF technology as opposed to a GPS and played a role in locating six missing people in the York Region between 2021 and 2022. “The York Regional Police Project Lifesaver program combines radio technology with a coordinated police response to locate wandering and disoriented loved ones due to Alzheimer’s, autism, or other conditions or disorders. Radio Frequency (RF) locating technology includes an RF transmitter worn by the individual who is prone to wandering and an antenna which receives signals from the transmitter,” said the YRP.

Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, the U.S. Space Force’s chief of space operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee that China remains the “most immediate threat” as it continues to weaponize its space technology, according to Space News. “Among the most concerning of China’s technologies, he said, are ground-based lasers designed to disrupt and degrade satellite sensors, electronic warfare jammers targeting GPS and communications satellites, and anti-satellite missiles.” China, Saltzman continued, is “likely pursuing anti-satellite systems able to destroy satellites in geosynchronous orbit. They are testing on-orbit satellite systems which could be weaponized as they have already shown the capability to physically control and move other satellites.”

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility found its newest Engineering Division Manager in Tim Machalski. With 25 years of management experience, Michalski will oversee all aspects of the management and operation of the Engineering Division which includes more than 200 staff members and supports the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility and the lab’s growing project portfolio. “I am proud to name Tim as our newest Engineering Division Manager,” said Jefferson Lab Director Stuart Henderson. “Tim has more than a decade of experience as the deputy engineering manager, working closely with the founding manager of the division. I am confident that Tim’s skills, experience, and knowledge will serve us well as he leads our world-class engineering organization into a bright future serving the mission of the laboratory and the Department of Energy.” Michalski, who has a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology (Go Tigers!) and a master's degree in engineering management from Syracuse University (Go Orange!), said, “The Engineering Division is a highly skilled team that integrates well with other divisions and does an excellent job supporting the CEBAF program as well as partnership projects,” he said. “I look forward to incorporating lessons learned from previous organizations and best practices that can be applied here at the lab.”

Finally, there may be one less thing for my wife and me to disagree on. A graduate student at Southern Methodist University (go Mustangs!) has developed a miniature pH sensor that can tell when food has spoiled in real time, according to EurekAlert. The flexible pH sensor is only 2 millimeters in length and 10 millimeters wide and can be integrated into current food packaging methods such as plastic wrapping. “The pH sensors we developed work like a small wireless radio-frequency identification device – similar to what you find inside your luggage tag after it has been checked at airports. Every time a food package with our device passes a checkpoint, such as shipping logistics centers, harbors, gates, or supermarkets’ entrances, they could get scanned and the data could be sent back to a server tracking their pH levels,” said Khengdauliu Chawang, a Ph.D. student at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering and lead creator of the device. “Such configuration would allow continuous pH monitoring and accurately detect freshness limits along the entire journey – from farms to consumers’ houses.” The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer’s (IEEE) Big Ideas competition at the 2022 IEEE Sensors Conference honored Chawang with the Best Women-owned Business Pitch for her invention, which she built with the support of J.-C. Chiao, the Mary and Richard Templeton Centennial Chair and professor in the Lyle School’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. More importantly, the sensor may put an end to the ongoing “that’s a sell-by date it doesn’t mean the food is bad” discussion that happens in our house at least once a month.