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Reading Tags in Space

Texas State University engineering students are designing an RFID system that could read multiple tags simultaneously.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 27, 2016

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) RFID-tracks all inventory on the International Space Station. Efficiencies are crucial, because sending items up to the station is extremely expensive, and resources, including electricity, are precious. NASA was looking for an RFID system that could read tags simultaneously rather than sequentially, to reduce the time and battery life required to take inventory on the space station.

Jacobs Technology, a subcontractor for NASA's Johnson Space Center, was working on research with Texas State University's Ingram School of Engineering. In January 2015, senior engineering students Ramsey Doany, Cody Lovejoy and Kyle Jones were assigned a NASA-sponsored project to design an RFID system that could read multiple RFID tags simultaneously.

The International Space Station (Photo: NASA)
The students did not have any experience with RFID systems, but their advising professor, Harold Stern, is an expert in wireless communication systems and a regular attendee of RFID Journal LIVE! The team members intended to build an entirely new RFID reader but did not have access to the necessary tools, so they decided to modify existing hardware.

"The RFID companies we contacted would not grant us access to the privileged information required to modify the existing hardware," Doany says. "So we turned to simulation. After determining the modulation technique of the tags we were using, we built the entire system in Simulink, a graphical programming environment for modeling, simulating and analyzing multi-domain dynamic systems."

Once they had a simulated signal, they transmitted with an RFID reader antenna using an RF arbitrary waveform generator. They received the signal using the HackRF One tool, and demodulated and decoded it using MATLAB software.

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