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Encyclopedia > Parabolic antenna

The Parabolic antenna is a high-gain, reflector antenna used for radio, television and data communications, and also for radiolocation (RADAR), on the UHF and SHF frequencies. The relatively short wavelength of electromagnetic (radio) energy at these frequencies allows reasonably sized reflectors to exhibit the very desirable highly directional response for both receiving and transmitting.

Parabolic Antennas at the Very Large Array Radio Telescope (image courtesy of NRAO/AUI)

A typical parabolic antenna consists of a reflector illuminated by a small feed antenna.

The reflector is a metallic surface formed into a paraboloid of revolution and (usually) truncated in a circular rim that forms the diameter of the antenna. This paraboloid possesses a distinct focal point by virtue of having the reflective property of parabolas in that a point light source at this focus produces a parallel light beam aligned with the axis of revolution.

The feed antenna is placed at the reflector focus. This antenna is typically a low-gain type such as a half-wave dipole or a small waveguide horn. In more complex designs, such as the Cassegrain antenna, a sub-reflector is used to direct the energy into the parabolic reflector from a feed antenna located away from the primary focal point. The feed antenna is connected to the associated radio-frequency (RF) transmitting or receiving equipment by means of a coaxial cable transmission line or hollow waveguide.

Considering the parabolic antenna as a circular aperture gives the following approximation for the maximum gain:



is power gain over isotropic
is reflector diameter in wavelengths

Practical considerations of antenna effective area and sidelobe suppression reduce the actual gain obtained to between 35 and 55 percent of this theoretical value.

Applying the formula to just one of the 25-meter-diameter VLA antennas shown in the illustration for a wavelength of 21 cm (1.42 GHz, a common radio-astronomy frequency) yields an approximate maximum gain of 140,000 times or about 50 dBi (decibels above the isotropic level).

With the advent of TVRO and DBS satellite television, the parabolic antenna has become an ubiquitous feature of urban, suburban, and even rural, landscapes. Extensive terrestrial microwave links, such as those between cellphone base stations, and wireless WAN/LAN applications have also proliferated this antenna type. Earlier applications included ground-based and airborne radar and radio astronomy. The largest "dish" antenna in the world is the radio telescope at Arecibo, PR, but, for beam-steering reasons, it is actually a spherical, rather than parabolic, reflector.

See also: satellite dish

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