NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

A small California aerospace business working to develop the first large deployable antenna in space as part of a NASA space technology development program has been awarded the Small Business Administration's 1994 Administrator Certificate of Excellence.

L'Garde Inc. of Tustin, Calif., recipient of the award, will be honored for its innovative work at an industry awards ceremony to be held on Thursday, May 4, in Washington, D.C.

The light-weight inflatable space antenna is in development as part of the company's partnership with NASA's In-Space Technology Experiments Program (IN-STEP). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is facilitating development of the technology, which will lead to a large, deployable space antenna that will be tested in space during a 1996 space shuttle mission.

Large space antennas many times the size of today's mechanical orbiting antennas are needed for a variety of applications in space. Among their many applications are spaceborne satellite antennas for mobile communications, Earth observations, active microwave sensing, astronomical observing and space-based radar.

The 14-meter (46-foot) diameter antenna is dish-shaped and will be supported by inflatable struts. The dish will be attached to a very small, recoverable microspacecraft called the Spartan, which will be taken into orbit aboard the space shuttle. Once in low-Earth orbit, the Spartan will become a mounting platform for the antenna. The inflatable structure would yield an antenna in space roughly the size of a tennis court.

A space structure of that size weighs no more than 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and the technology can be developed for less than $10 million, a substantial savings over current mechanical antennas costing nearly $200 million to develop and deliver to space. L'Garde Inc. has extensive experience in fabricating cylindrical structures like the inflatable antenna for use in space.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is supporting the antenna technology through the space agency's IN-STEP Program, which is sponsored by NASA's Office of Space Access and Technology, Washington, D.C.

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