Locally made antennas to go supersonic

13 November 2013 News

South African wireless antenna specialist Poynting has been selected to design and build antennas for the Bloodhound SCC, a UK-built supersonic car that will attempt to beat the current world land-speed record in 2015 and 2016 at Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape.

Credit: Stefan Marjoram.
Credit: Stefan Marjoram.

Pilot Andy Green. Credit: Stefan Marjoram.
Pilot Andy Green. Credit: Stefan Marjoram.

Members of the Bloodhound team have held the world land-speed record for 30 consecutive years, and have raised the American record by 22%. The first record attempts will take place in 2015, during which the car – with Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green, current holder of the world land-speed record at 1227 km/h, at the helm – will make approximately 20 runs with the objective of achieving a supersonic record (1300 km/h). The team will then return at a later date to aim for the 1000 mph (1610 km/h) mark.

The hybrid (in this case hybrid means jet- and rocket-powered, not electric- and petrol-powered) vehicle is currently being built by a team of 30 engineers in a special technical centre near Bristol in the UK. Some of the Bloodhound SSC team members visited Poynting at the end of October to discuss requirements and ideas.

Poynting is certainly taking the challenge seriously, having built a project team consisting of engineering project manager Lara Viljoen, Poynting chief technical officer Dr Derek Nitch, research and development manager Mark Haarhoff and mechanical engineer Eduard Walker, as well as other Poynting staff.

“We’re relishing the challenge of designing antennas that will facilitate essential communications, data sharing and monitoring between the supersonic vehicle and the base stations,” says Viljoen. “A key objective of the project is inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers by sharing this engineering adventure and engaging educators, learners and families. As well as the excitement of aiming for 1610 km/h, that is the key reason we’re involved in this landmark project.”

Bloodhound SCC will be a world-first live open data project where all the data on research, design, manufacturing and testing of the car is shared through up to 300 media channels, thanks to sponsor MTN and the antennas produced by Poynting. The data will be used to video stream data in real time so that the world can view the events.

The vehicle requires reliable, high-speed data communication to the MTN LTE base stations in order to stream this data. According to Viljoen, Poynting has committed to providing qualified antennas which will be mounted inside the vehicle fin and will be connected via RF cables to the User Equipment Sierra Wireless modules. The antenna development will follow Poynting’s development methodologies and capabilities, which will involve a series of simulations, prototypes, tests and qualifications.

The Bloodhound SSC project is investing heavily in educational outreach and public communication. Over 40 000 South African learners in 368 schools have been introduced to date, and the target is to register 1000 schools by the end of 2014.

“Poynting will be engaging in the opportunity to be a part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Corporate Ambassador Programme,” says Viljoen. “We’ll be visiting a number of schools to inspire learners and educators to use the project’s free educational resources to make science, maths and engineering come alive in the classroom.”

Bloodhound education director in South Africa, Dave Rowley, said, “The enthusiasm of the Poynting team to support the education programme is a great bonus and will enable us to reach more schools and to also develop curriculum resource materials based on the antenna research they are developing for the project. It’s a great opportunity for us to show a very practical example of wireless communications being captured at very high speeds.”


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