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A helical antenna is a specialized antenna that emits and responds to electromagnetic fields with rotating (circular)polarization. These antennas are commonly used at earth-based stations in satellite communications systems. This type of antenna is designed for use with an unbalanced feed line such as coaxial cable. The center conductor of the cable is connected to the helical element, and the shield of the cable is connected to the reflector.
To the casual observer, a helical antenna appears as one or more "springs" or helixes mounted against a flat reflecting screen. The length of the helical element is one wavelength or greater. The reflector is a circular or square metal mesh or sheet whose cross dimension (diameter or edge) measures at least 3/4 wavelength. The helical element has a radius of 1/8 to 1/4 wavelength, and a pitch of 1/4 to 1/2 wavelength. The minimum dimensions depend on the lowest frequency at which the antenna is to be used. If the helix or reflector is too small (the frequency is too low), the efficiency is severely degraded. Maximum radiation and response occur along the axis of the helix.
Helical antennas are commonly connected together in so-called bays of two,four, or occasionally more elements with a common reflector. The entire assembly can be rotated in the horizontal (azimuth) and vertical (elevation) planes, so the system can be aimed toward a particular satellite. If the satellite is not in a geostationary orbit, the azimuth and elevation rotators can be operated by a computerized robot that is programmed to follow the course of the satellite across the sky.