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A satellite dish won't win awards for beauty. Even the newest versions, just a few feet across, still look like something the Advanced Martian Planning Group stuck in your back yard.

Luckily for satellite-TV fans - and for zoning boards around the country - a new kind of satellite antenna promises to take "ugly" out of the vocabulary of the satellite-TV business. It's not available yet, but it could show up in American homes, offices and apartments before long.It's a curtain that acts as an antenna. To put it the other way, it's a satellite antenna that looks like a window curtain. It doesn't need to be placed in a window and in fact can even be hidden inside a wall.

The new antenna is being developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology in a project paid for by the Pentagon. The generals who are backing the Georgia Tech project aren't interested in beauty, of course; they see the new antenna as a way to pick up signals from spy satellites without using a tell-tale satellite dish.

But researchers make it clear that the antenna's real potential lies in the consumer market, where it would become the first truly hidden satellite reception system.

It could also end up being cheaper than a dish antenna, too. Since it doesn't need to be steered in one direction or another like a satellite dish and is never exposed to the weather, the curtain antenna can be made from inexpensive, lightweight materials.

A team of researchers at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering created the antenna by molding a dozen or more copper wires into a Teflon sheet. Each copper wire acts like a separate antenna. When all of them are working together, the faint signals from orbiting satellites are made strong enough to match the reception quality of a standard dish.