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Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Spiky Simulator That Will Help Find Oceans in Space

The electric-blue chamber looks like a crowd of punk mohawks or the Night King’s jagged skull. In fact, this 4,306-square-foot room is where antennas are torture-tested before being launched into space.

Called the Hybrid European Radio Frequency and Antenna Test Zone, or HERTZ, it’s located in Noordwijk, Netherlands. The 33-foot-high steel walls are studded with 18-inch foam pyramids that block external electro­magnetic interference. Two tests are performed here: One measures radio waves from omni­directional antennas, like the type rovers use to communicate with orbiters; another calibrates highly directional antennas, which spacecraft use to send data to Earth. Engineers bounce radio waves between an antenna and giant carbon reflectors to simulate signals hurtling at light speed through 500 million miles of space.

Next up, HERTZ will test a radar antenna that’ll search for liquid oceans during the 2022 Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission. If everything checks out, the system will leave this bristly cocoon for the vast wilderness of deep space.

This article appears in the September issue. Subscribe now.

The Mars Series. Antenna Test Zone, ESA, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, 2016

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