MANY NAYSAYERS have doubted the potential of metamaterials, pointing to issues like narrow bandwidth and high loss. Recently, however, Lockheed Martin collaborated with Pennsylvania State University to develop a material that will improve the performance of spacecraft antennas. They have successfully designed metamaterials that enhance standard horn antennas by more than an octave bandwidth with negligible loss.

This electromagnetic (EM) metamaterial is considered to be the first commercially viable product of its kind. It is one of the first practical implementations of EM metamaterials that improves a real-world device. Metamaterials have properties not found in nature. EM metamaterials, like the one developed by the Lockheed Martin-Penn State collaboration, are designed to interact with and control the way that EM waves travel. As a result, they enable new devices with radically different and improved performance. Metamaterials also can help to make products smaller, which is important in space-based applications, and can be less costly to manufacture.

Lockheed Martin's University Research Initiative (URI) Program funded the initiative, which produced a metamaterial used in a horn-shaped satellite antenna (see figure). Leveraging a partnership that spans several years, this collaboration combined concepts envisioned by Dr. Erik Lier of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company with Penn State's expertise. Professor Doug Werner, Director of the Penn State Computational Electromagnetics and Antennas Research Lab, led a team of students and scholars that developed the design optimization tools. They also successfully built and, together with Lockheed Martin, tested the first prototype antenna.