Beam Measurements of the Tianlai Dish Radio Telescope Using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle [Antenna Applications Corner]
Precision measurement of the beam pattern of an antenna is very important for many applications. While traditionally such measurement is often made in a microwave anechoic chamber or at a test range, measurement using an unmanned aerial vehicle offers a number of advantages: the measurement can be made for the assembled antenna on site, thus reflecting the actual characteristics of the antenna of interest, and more importantly, it can be performed for larger antennas which cannot be steered or easily measured using the anechoic chamber and test range. Here we report our beam measurement experiment with UAV for a 6 meter dish used in the Tianlai array, which is a radio astronomy experiment. Due to the dish's small collecting area, calibration with an astronomical source only allows for determining the antenna beam pattern over a very limited angular range. We describe in detail the setup of the experiment, the components of the signal transmitting system, the design of the flight path and the procedure for data processing. We find the UAV measurement of the beam pattern agrees very well with the astronomical source measurement in the main lobe, but the UAV measurement can be extended to the fourth side lobe. The measured position and width of each lobe also shows good agreement with electromagnetic field simulation. This UAV-based approach of beam pattern measurement is flexible and inexpensive, and the technique may also be applied to other experiments.