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1st INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON PHYSICS AND TECHNOLOGY OF SENSORS 8-10 March 2012

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Development of an autonomous control system for solar tracking using a 4.5 m satellite communication dish as a Sun sensor
Ankur Divekara, Abhay Kulkarnia and S. Ananthakrishnana
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Department of Electronic Science, University of Pune, India e-mail: wiztronix@gmail.com

Keywords: Sun sensor, parabolic dish antenna, solar tracking, autonomous control system A 4.5m parabolic dish antenna with appropriate feed can be used to capture the signal from strong radio sources like the sun. Such a Sun sensor antenna only observes a small portion of the total sky in the direction in which it is pointed. This necessitates a control system for two-axis control of the radio dish, to follow the motion of the radiosource in the sky. It is desirable for such a system to be completely autonomous once it is started up. Also the system needs to include various measures for safety of the dish as well as other hardware components involved. Such a control system has been developed in-house at the RF and Communications lab at the Department of Electronics, University of Pune and is currently in use. Further sections describe the said system in greater detail. A 4.5m parabolic dish has been received from the GMRT of NCRA-TIFR on a long-term loan basis, and has been installed on top of the building of the Department of Electronic Science, University of Pune. The dish was accompanied by the appropriate feed and some control hardware (viz. encoders, motors and motor-driving circuitry). However, the dish was originally designed to receive signals from geostationary satellites. Hence, the motion control system for the dish was designed to move only in one axis (i.e. Azimuth or Elevation) at a time. For real-time tracking of radio sources (e.g. the sun) that move across the field of view in the sky, simultaneous motion is required in both axes. Also the current position of the dish must be calculated from the encoder outputs. Hence the dish has been equipped with redesigned control circuitry which can drive both the motors simultaneously. Also, since remote control of the dish motion is desired, appropriate interfaces for medium distance serial protocols have been designed and implemented for both the encoder and control lines. This has enabled the dish to be controlled by receiving current dish position from the encoders and then issuing appropriate commands. Both these operations are executed over the serial ports of a computer in the lab. The diagram below shows the components of the system described. Receiving dish position and issuing dish motion commands over serial port using HyperTerminal as described above is simple for purposes of testing the system. However for continuously moving the dish according to the movement of the sun in the sky, this method was found to be quite tedious as all the calculations for direction and speed of the motor motion had to be done manually. Also, it was practically inaccessible to a user not familiar with the whole control system design. Hence, a MATLAB-based control system with Graphic User Interface (GUI) has been designed for autonomous solar tracking (Fig 2). The system lets the user specify the number of hours for which the solar tracking is to be done and generates the coordinates for sun position in the sky for the appropriate time period. Once started, the system continuously compares the current antenna positions obtained from the encoder with the generated table of sun coordinates and calculates the offset. Based on the value of the offset, it calculates the direction and speed with which the dish needs to be moved in order to track the sun. Then it generates the appropriate commands and moves both the elevation and azimuth motors simultaneously as per the calculations. The current position of the antenna is continuously updated on the GUI display and the successive antenna positions are plotted graphically against the set of target positions. It also updates a table showing the next five target positions. The residual error between the target positions and successive current positions is also plotted continuously. The system communicates continuously with the Antenna Control Unit (ACU), and can also cater to 7 different error statuses sent by the ACU, including limit switches and overheating faults. In case of any of these errors the system issues an emergency stop command. The MATLAB code written also offers five levels of verbosity which can be selected by the user to print various degrees of runtime information on the command prompt. The control system software architecture is designed such that the system can be readily extended to two axis control for multiple dishes. The described system is now being used by postgraduate as well as research students at the department. It has been tested up to 4 hours of continuous tracking, and has been verified to be stable, with typical tracking accuracies of about 0.15 degrees or more. Further development will include increasing the tracking accuracy, testing and verifying the control system for tracking periods of 8 hours or more, and the development of code for automatic coordinate generation for sources other than the sun. Also the system will be extended to two dish control, to form a basic interferometer. This is one of the first efforts at the university level in India for developing a fully functional radiotelescope and radio-interferometer for continuous tracking and observation of radio sources.

1st INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON PHYSICS AND TECHNOLOGY OF SENSORS 8-10 March 2012
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Fig1: Block diagram of the control system

Fig2: GUI for the autonomous control system