Vector antenna and maximum likelihood imaging for radio astronomy
March 5, 2016
Radio astronomy using frequencies less than ~100 MHz provides a window into non-thermal processes in objects ranging from planets to galaxies. Observations in this frequency range are also used to map the very early history of star and galaxy formation in the universe. Much effort in recent years has been devoted to highly capable low frequency ground-based interferometric arrays such as LOFAR, LWA, and MWA. Ground-based arrays, however, cannot observe astronomical sources below the ionospheric cut-off frequency of ~10 MHz, so the sky has not been mapped with high angular resolution below that frequency. The only space mission to observe the sky below the ionospheric cut-off was RAE-2, which achieved an angular resolution of ~60 degrees in 1973. This work presents alternative sensor and algorithm designs for mapping the sky both above and below the ionospheric cutoff. The use of a vector sensor, which measures the full electric and magnetic field vectors of incoming radiation, enables reasonable angular resolution (~5 degrees) from a compact sensor (~4 m) with a single phase center. A deployable version of the vector sensor has been developed to be compatible with the CubeSat form factor.