News Feature | February 2, 2023

Back Channel — Turning Fast Radio Bursts Into Cosmic Probes, HawkEye 360 Cluster 6 Microsatellites Deployed, 3D-Printed Antennas Bring 5G & 6G To Remote Areas, And More

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor


Back Channel presents the most captivating news and innovations in RF and microwaves. This week, astronomers are preparing to launch LuSEE Night, boosting your data speed courtesy of the U.S. Navy, RFID key to single sign-on authentication solution, and more.

Let’s start with ephemeral waves which, as they travel across space, pick up information about galaxies and the Universe’s large-scale structure, according to Nature. A source of intrigue since their discovery in 2007, the exact cause of fast radio bursts (FRBs) remains uncertain. But astronomers are now beginning to use the bursts as tools to probe the cosmos — from untangling the nature of the cosmic web to measuring the expansion of the Universe. “I am pretty bullish about FRBs becoming a basic astronomical tool in the near future,” says Di Li, an astronomer at the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing. “So far, astronomers have largely used the available FRB data to locate and learn about the home galaxies of the bursts, but they are starting to make wider inferences about the distribution and structure of matter that is otherwise difficult to study,” reports Nature.

Next up: a new pathway to lunar observatories. Universe Today reports a team of astronomers hopes to block out the interference caused by the Earth when mapping our universe’s radio emissions, beginning with the LuSEE Night mission to the far side of the Moon. It will launch in 2025 and chart a new pathway to Lunar observatories. “LuSEE Night owes its technological heritage to the Parker Solar Probe and is in fact nearly an identical copy of one of the instruments onboard that spacecraft,” writes Universe Today. “LuSEE Night consists of two 6m long antenna set in a cross-shaped pattern along with a bare-bones set of electronics.”

Microsatellites away! “Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) announced that ground control successfully established communication with three radio frequency (RF) geolocation microsatellites developed by SFL for HawkEye, according to the American Journal of Transportation. Cluster 6 was launched a little over a week again on the inaugural flight for Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket. This successful mission brings the number of HawkEye 360 microsatellites built by SFL and now in orbit to 18. “The HawkEye 360 Constellation detects and geolocates RF signals for maritime situational awareness, emergency response, national security, and spectrum analysis applications,” writes the American Journal of Transportation. “To boost revisit rates over the mid-latitude regions of the globe, Cluster 6 was launched into an inclined orbit. Upon commissioning, HawkEye 360 will be able to collect RF data as frequently as every hour anywhere in the world.”

Anchors aweigh! Well, not really, but the transition fits in nicely with the previous one. Anyway, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) asks what would we do if the world ran out of radio wave spectrum? Would there be enough data to meet everyone’s needs for streaming and texting? NIST and its partners are looking for answers to these questions and now report, “Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) networks have been popping up around the country to support localized, high-data usage areas, such as universities and sports stadiums. In facilities with these networks, it’s used for things like concession stand sales and coaching staff communications or supporting video streaming for virtual classes. This allows other frequencies to remain open for fans to use their own devices with plenty of bandwidth. Otherwise, networks may be overwhelmed with traffic from so many users concentrated in a small area.” What is allowing this to work is the unique structure of the CRBS ecosystem:

  • The first tier belongs to the Navy’s radars. The Navy gets priority access.
  • Companies can buy access to it when the Navy is not using it, called a priority access license. For example, the NFL has bought access for use inside some of its stadiums.
  • The public gets third priority and can use the spectrum anytime it’s not in use by the Navy or the priority access license holders. If you can get your device connected, you can use it. But you’ll connect through a provider, just like you do with Wi-Fi; that provider navigates the priorities and rules for you.

3D brings 5G and 6G to remote areas. Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed 3D-printed radio antennas that could help bring stronger mobile phone signals and faster internet connections to people living in remote communities according to India Education Diary. The millimeter wave (mmWave) aerials – designed, made, and tested by researchers from the University’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering – have radio frequency performance that matches those produced using conventional manufacturing techniques and are expected to speed up the development of new 5G and 6G infrastructure. According to Eddie Ball, Reader in RF Engineering at the University of Sheffield, “This 3D-printed design could be a game changer for the telecommunications industry. It enables us to prototype and produce antennas for 5G and 6G networks at a far lower cost and much quicker than the current manufacturing techniques. The design could also be used to produce antennas on a much larger scale and therefore can cover more areas and bring the fastest mobile networks to parts of the world that have not yet had access.”

Finally, Tech Native reports “The use of passwords to protect computer networks is once again under the spotlight after software firm NordPass published its latest list of the most common and easily hackable passwords.” With sooooo many passwords requiring less than a second to hack, the importance of more sophisticated approaches to network security is more important than ever. “And,” writes Tech Native, “one of the most robust and reliable currently available are single sign-on (SSO)/PC login systems that combine middleware with RFID (radio frequency identification) or smartphone-enabled technologies for user authentication. Not only is this approach much more robust than using passwords, but SSO/PC login solutions also can be used regardless of where employees work, be that in the office, at home, or while traveling.” Universal readers also will provide greater user flexibility, reliable network and data protection, and allow for remote updates and upgrades to help focus on future security.