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CHIPS Articles: NSWC Dahlgren Division Engineers Invent ‘Game-Changing’ Counterweight to Stabilize SATCOM Antennas

NSWC Dahlgren Division Engineers Invent ‘Game-Changing’ Counterweight to Stabilize SATCOM Antennas
By Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division - August 14, 2020
DAHLGREN, Va. – Satellite communications is critical for the warfighter when calling for support from the air, land or sea. However, during harsh environmental conditions; SATCOM antennas can tip over.

The Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) requested a solution for keeping field antennas from falling over. The team – Aidan Cowhig, Robert Iannuzzi and Alex Dixon; engineers in the Readiness and Training Systems Department at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division – took this to heart.

Their invention was submitted in a patent application titled, “Balance Platform for Mobile Antenna,” to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; filed on Sept. 26, 2019 and made public, April 16. As part of the antenna stabilization kit (ASK), the counterweight was designed to stabilize the AV 2040 antenna by Trivec Avant, but can be adapted to be used on any man-portable antenna.

“This invention directly supports NSWCDD’s strategic goal to provide mission focused capabilities to the warfighter, specifically to Maritime Expeditionary Warfare and Irregular Warfare,” said Barry Stevens, chief scientist in NSWCDD’s Readiness and Training Systems Department.

To get started, the team set the antenna on top of a lab conference room table and brainstormed ideas. Each considered factors such as portability and durability to keep it from tipping over, said Cowhig, a project technical lead at NSWCDD during the development of the kit who is now as an engineer in Digital Design and Manufacturing in the Additive Manufacturing Branch at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division.

“The most significant factor that went into the development of the counterweight system was consideration for the end user and the operating environment,” said Cowhig. “We knew we had to develop a solution that not only solved the tipping problem, but also was easy to use, cost-efficient, lightweight enough to be carried by expeditionary forces, and durable enough to survive harsh environments and rough treatment.”

Iannuzzi was the mechanical design engineer for the IBR Project. Throughout the development of the solution and patent, he took on the role of the technical lead for the IBR Kit Technical refresh project for MCSC. He is now the lead branches lead systems engineer while also serving as the Technical Lead for the Naval Operational Architecture Development and program manager for the Model-Based Systems Engineering effort, Fleet Integration and Rapid Execution of Warfighting Systems and Platforms.

He stressed the importance of working together on behalf of the end user – the warfighter.

“I would also echo that a vital component of the design effort was interfacing with the users at both the program office and within the operational community,” said Iannuzzi. “Taking the perspective of the user not having time to set up complicated assemblies, we wanted to derive requirements that enabled rapid deployment, captive fasteners to prevent loss, environmental toughness (impact resistant and high elasticity) to support a physically demanding use-case and that it was not only preinstalled but also did not hinder operational use of the antenna regardless of orientation.”

The team created multiple mock-ups of several different concepts and installed each on the antenna. The team narrowed it down to the counterweight concept which provides a good balance of performance, cost and portability, said Cowhig.

The team’s invention was almost complete.

“After a few iterations of CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D printing, we came to a final design which could easily be packed into the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) antenna carrying bag, and which prevented the tipping of the antenna in all but the most extreme conditions,” said Cowhig.

The engineers take pride in answering the call in support of the warfighter.

“The increased capability to the warfighter that this solution provides is increased link availability, when previously the antenna may have been placed out of sight of the operators and fallen over but somehow still might have been in just enough range to receive partial signal,” said Iannuzzi. “This condition could potentially leave the entire system and the operational unit in a degraded stated without the operator even knowing it.”

Cowhig would agree.

“This antenna is very widely used across our expeditionary forces,” said Cowhig. “The counterweight system allows this antenna to be operated reliably in less-than-ideal conditions as is often the case for our expeditionary forces, which enables greater operational effectiveness and safety for the users.

Michael O’Brien, division chief engineer in the Readiness and Training Systems Department, applauded the team on their invention.

“The antenna stabilization kit (ASK) is a game changer that enables the dismounted operator to rapidly and easily deploy an accessory that maintains critical antenna positioning when high gain elements are required in a challenging electromagnetic field or bad weather environment,” said O’Brien.

This “game changer” is not yet available for purchase or fielding. However, through the Navy technology transfer program, the private sector and government creatively and effectively work together in support of the warfighter. Qualified U.S. companies can license the invention for manufacturing and sales.

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