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pulse can be made to fire accurately to within 0.1 psec. The primary
source of jitter in a switch of this type isin the firing of the third tube,
which cannot be overvolted by the trigger. After the two triggered tubes
are broken down, the full switch voltage is applied to the third tube;
thus, the greater the switch voltage, the greater the overvolting of the
third tube. The jitter in this switch, therefore, decreases with increas-
ing switch voltage. At a given switch voltage the jitter also varies
during the life of the tube because of changes in electrode-surface
8.9. The Iron-sponge Mercury-cathode Gap.—A gap of this type2
is an improvement over the cylindrical-electrode aluminum-cathode gap
in at least three respects:
1. The range remains constant during life.
2. The time jitter can be maintained at a value of the order of mag-
nitude of one per cent of the pulse duration.
3. As wide an operating range can be obtained with two of these gaps
as with three of the cylindrical-electrode aluminum-cathode gaps.
For satisfactory operation, however, the reverse current must be kept
The anode of this gap is a molybdenum rod with a diameter of approxi-
mate y 0.060 in. The cathode is mercury that is immobilized by an iron
sponge. This iron sponge contains about 60 per cent void space and is
made by compressing iron powder into a kovar cup and sintering under
appropriate conditions. After subsequent heat treatment in a hydrogen
atmosphere the sponge of a typical gap holds about 9 cm3 of mercury
when fully saturated. The mercury that is evaporated from the surface
of the cathode during operation condenses and runs down the walls back
into the sponge. Because of the surface tension of the mercury, a film of
mercury is maintained over the surface of the iron sponge which prevents
the erosion of the iron. In order to minimize the time jitter, the gaps are
usually filled with 100 per cent hydrogen. Radium salts are generally
omitted in order to increase the operating range and to further minimize
1H. L. Glick, “Triggering of High Power Spark Caps,” WestinghouseResearch
Report SR-307, Oct. 18, 1945.
t F. S. Goucher,J. R. Haynes,and E. J. Ryder, “High Power SeriesGaps Having
Sintered Iron Sponge Mercury Cathodes,” NDRC 14-488, Bell Telephone Labora-
tories, Oct. 1, 1945; J. R. Dillinger, “Operation of Sintered Iron Sponge-Mercury
CathodeType SeriesGapsat 5 MicrosecondCondltioas,”RL Report N-o.682-5,Nov.
28, 1945;and J. R. Dillinger,“Line-Type Modulator and HP]OV MagnetronOperrt-
tion at 6 Megawatts,” RL Report No. 682-6, Nov. 30, 1945.
SWITCHES FOR LINE-TYPE PULSERS
Particular Gap Designs. —Figure 832 shows the two tubes of this type
developed to date. The cooling fins, which are in thermal contact with
the cathodes of the tubes, can be seen. The 1B42 is shown in Fig.
8.32a and the Fe-I is shown in Fig. 8.32b. The large opaque spot just
.- -. ------.——.
FIG. 8.32.—Photographsand X-ray prints of iron-spongemercury-cathodegaps.
(a) The 1B42,(b) the Fe-I. (The photograph for prt (a) courtesy of the Bell Telephone
SEC. 8.9] THE IRON-SPONGE MERCURY-CATHODE
above the kovar cup in the x-ray of the Fe-I tube is due to a globule of
free mercury that collected there when the tube was placed in a horizontal
position to take the x-ray. The small spots on the walls of the kovar cup
were caused by drops of mercury adhering to the kovar. The upper
portion of the anode is surrounded by grass shields in order to prevent
mercury from dripping down close enough to the sparking region to affect
the operation of the gap. The 1B42 is mounted by means of a bolt
extending down from the cathode, and the cooling fin is an integral part
of the tube. As shown in the sketch in Fig. 8.32b, the cooling fin of the
Fe-I tube is not an integral part of the tube, but serves instead as a
mounting socket. The operation of the Fe-I tube with various electrode
spacings and gas pressures has been satisfactory for a variety of condi-
tions, the reliable life of the tube being greater than 500 hr.
Some specifications for these tubes are given in Table 8.3. Each
quantity has the same significance as in Table 8“2. In columns contain-
ing more than one figure, the first represents the maximum and the second
the minimum rating. The value of Vsa, the nominal operating voltage
per gap, has been obtained from data for the operation of two gaps in
No. I,, amp 7, psec f,, pps 19.., ma ~v Tf, coulombs amp X
per pulse see-l
1B42 3*8O 6.1-0.25 2000 0.250 5.0 0.0012 1,28 X 10-s 40 x 104
Fe-I 750-100 5.54.5 1000 0.45Q 7.5 0.0011 1.5 x 10-~ 25 X 104
Operating Characteristics. —T~Vo of these gaps are used in series as
the switch in a line-type pulser because it was found that two gaps give an
operating range greater than *33 per cent, which is ample for most
applications. In general, one would expect Vti~ to be equal to the break-
down voltage of one gap and VS to be twice this value when using two
gaps in series, making the range +33 per cent. However, the applica-
tion of the charging-voltage wave to these gaps causes a corona sheath
to be formed about the anode, which changes the breakdown characteris-
tics. The magnitude of this change increases with the amplitude of the
charging-voltage wave. At voltages near Vti~, the corona- sheath has a
small effect, and the breakdown voltage of the gap is approximately
characteristic of a point-t~plane discharge, as seen from the x-rays of
Fig. 8.32. N’ear Vs, however, the corona sheath is large and shaped
like a distorted sphere about the end of the anode, making the breakdown
voltage per gap more nearly characteristic of that of a sphere-to-plane
discharge. Thus, the dynamic-breakdown voltage per gap at voltages
SWITCHES FOR LINE-TYPE PULSERS
in the region of Vs k greater than in the region of voltages near Vrnim.
Therefore, the ratio of Vsto Vti~isgreater than2to lfor the operation
of two gaps in series. If a small amount of radium salt is inserted in
these gaps, the beneficial effects of this corona sheath are destroyed, and
the ratio of maximum to minimum operating voltage obtained with two
gaps becomes less than 2.
For two Fe-I gaps operated at 15.5 kv, 290 amp, 300 PPS, and 2 psec,
the voltage range of 10.5 to 22.5 kv is constant for more than 500 hr of
operation, with V,~,t equal to 5.5 kv. The required trigger voltage is
20 kv, and the time jitter is less than 0.02 Psec at voltages above 14 kv,
provided that the rate of rise of trigger voltage is 55 kv/ysec or greater.
For gaps filled to higher gas pressures, ranges of 13 to 29 kv for two gaps
have been maintained during more than 500 hr of operation at 24.5 kv,
925 amp, 250 pps, and 2 psec.
Time Jitter.—In operating two gaps in circuit (d) of Fig. S.9, gap Gz is
broken down by the trigger pulse, applying the full switch voltage to
Gl, which is then broken down. If the delay in firing G, is appreciable,
Gz can partially recover and must be reignited after G* breaks down.
As a result, there are at least three sources of uncertainty-in the initiation
of the discharge, which combine to produce the observed time jitter in
the output pulse.
The uncertainty in the firing of G2 by the trigger pulse can be made
small compared with 0.02 psec by making the rate of rise of the trigger
voltage pulse equal to or greater than 55 kv/psec.
The uncertainty in the firing of G, can be reduced by increasing the
switch voltage, all of which appears across GI after Gz breaks down.
The time jitter introduced in reigniting Gz has been detected, but it is
All three sources of time jitter, but particularly that introduced in
the firing of Gl, can be reduced by improvements in the tube design.
The elimination of argon from the gas filling, a reduction in the diameter
of the anode, and a decrease in the gap spacing have all been found effec-
tive in reducing time jitter. It is possible to eliminate argon from these
tubes because they are intended for operation at pulse currents of 100
amp and higher. A reduction in the anode diameter decreases the jitter,
but increases the detrimental effects of reverse current in the tubes. The
most effective way of reducing time jitter is to decrease the spacing, and
to increase the gas pressure accordingly in order to obtain the desired gap
breakdown voltage. However, the maximum gain that can be obtained
by this method is limited because, for a gap with small spacing, the break-
down voltage increases linearly with gas pressure in the region of low
values, but for high gas pressures, this voltage is not affected appreciably
by a change in pressure.
THE IRON-SPONQE MERCUlt Y-CATHODE QAP
Effects of Rever8e Current.-Reverse current damages iron-sponge
mercury-cathode tubes by erodhg the electrode that is the anode for
the forward pulse and the cathode for the reverse current pulse. The
resulting increase inspacing during operation causes Vtito increase and
Vs either toincrease or to decrease. If considerable materialism eroded
from the anode and deposited on the tube walls, mercury condenses on it
and partially covers the walls. This mercury may give rise to disturb-
ances along the walls, which can lower 1’s despite the increase in spacing.
The increase in spacing also causes the time jitter to increase. Tests
have shown that a given value of reverse current has a more detrimental
effect on gap operation from the point of view of time jitter than from
that of operating range. In order to specify the reverse current that can
be tolerated in these tubes, limits are imposed on the maximum value of
erosion per pulse and on the total erosion permissible for a life of 500 hr.
The film of mercury that coats the end of the anode during operation has
been found ta limit the erosion rate of the anode to a value much smaller
than would be obtained without this film. It is therefore necessary to
limit the amount of erosion per pulse of reverse current, otherwise the
mercury film could be broken through during a single pulse of reverse
current, thereby exposing the molybdenum of the anode and greatly
increasing the erosion rate. By placing limits on the pulse current and
the pulse duration the erosion per pulse can be limited, If the total
erosion during a period of 500 hr were directly proportional to the num-
ber of coulombs per pulse, it could be limited by a specification of the
maximum allowable value of the average current. Although this linear
relation does not hold over a wide range of pulse duration, the linearity is
sufficient for general specifications. The limiting value of the average
reverse current that does not affect time jitters appears to lie between
1 and 2 ma.
In addition to the need for limiting the reverse current in these tubes
to a very low value because of its effect on range and time jitter, it is
necessary to limit it in the tubes filled with 100 per cent hydrogen in
order to eliminate amplitude jitter. In tubes containing 100 per cent
hydrogen, the tube drop during the conduction of reverse currents of low
peak value can be high and can fluctuate from pulse to pulse. A volt-
age that is sufficient to affect the next charging voltage can therefore be
left on the network after the pulse. Since the amount of voltage left
on the network fluctuates from pulse to pulse, amplitude jitter can result
in the output pulse.
Dissipation.-As a result of calorimetric measurements made at the
Bell Telephone Laboratories’ on iron-sponge mercury-cathode gaps
1F. S. Goucher,J. R. Haynes,W. A. Depp, and E. J. Ryder, “Spark Gap Switches
for Radar,” Bell S@em Technical Jourrud, Oct. 1946.
S WITCHES FOR LINE-TYPE PULSER,~
operated over a wide range of pulsing conditions, the following empirical
formula has been established expressing the dissipation D in j(JUICS per
pulse per gap in terms of the gap parameters and the pulsing conditions:
D = 5.7 X 10-71=S + (40 + 3.9 X 10-2p04S)1,,,,
where 1= is the pulse current in amperes, S is the gap spacing in roils, p
is the gas pressure in inches of mercury, and r is the pulse duration in
seconds. This equation has been established from data covering the
following ranges of parameters: spacing, 40 to 350 roils; gas pressure, 28 to
50 in. of mercury; pulse duration, 1 to 6 psec; pulse current, 45 to 1070
amp. The dissipation in watts per gap for any application may be
obtained by multiplying the value of D by the recurrence frequency.
This equation does not include the energy contributed by the trigger,
which can usually be neglected, but which can be measured independently
and added if necessary.
Dissipation is an important consideration not only from the stand-
point of circuit efficiency, but also in determining whether or not forced
cooling is necessary when operating mercury-cathode gaps. Since
mercury vapor has poor deionization characteristics, there is some upper
limit to the partial pressure of mercury, and thus to the operating tem-
perature of the gap, above which the poor deionization characteristics
of the mercury override the good characteristics of the hydrogen.
8.10. The Three-electrode Fixed Spark Gap.—In order to build a
satisfactory three-electrode gap, it is necessary to have an electrode
material such that its erosion rate at the desired operating conditions is
negligibly small in the gas to be used. Since a gap of this type has a
somewhat more complex electrode configuration than does a two-elec-
trode gap, much less electrode erosion can be tolerated.
The Trigatron.-The trigatron’ is a three-electrode tube filled with
approximately 95 per cent argon and 5 per cent oxygen to pressures of
about 1 to 6 atmospheres, depending on the desired operating voltage
and on particular tube design. The British CV85 and the CV 125 were
the two most widely used designs. Typical operating conditions for the
CV85 are 8 kv, 1200 pps, and 1 psec in a 70-ohm line-type pulser.
Photograph (a) of Fig. 8.33 shows a CV125 and (b) is a print of an
x-ray of this tube. The anode and cathode are of molybdenum and the
trigger pin is tungsten. The anode sleeve was found effective in making
the time jitter less than 0.1 ~sec.
Oxygen is used in a trigatron principally to maintain an oxide coating
1J. D. Craggs, M. E. Haine, and J. M. Meek, “The Development of Triggered
SparkGapswith ParticularReferenceto SealedGaps,” Metropolitan-VickersElectric
Co., Ltd., Report No. C-331, September1942.
SEC. 810] THE THREE-ELECTRODE
FIXED SPARK GAP
on the surfaces of the electrodes and thereby to limit the rate of electrode
erosion, since there are effectively two cathodes in the tube when it is
operating. In this tube, the principal discharge does not start between
the anode and cathode after the tube is triggered, but takes place from
the cathode to the trigger pin to the anode. Thus, the trigger pin must
serve as both an anode and cathode, and is therefore doubly subject to
erosion. Because of the small size of the trigger pin and the other elec-
trodes, this erosion must be minimized. The oxygen is also needed in
these gaps to quench metastable atoms of argon after the discharge.
F]o. S.33.—(a) A photograph and (b) an x-ray print of the CV 125 three-electrode gap.
At a recurrence frequency of 800 pps and a pulse duration of 0.9 psec,
and in a line-type pulser with a 50–ohm network and 50–ohm load, a
new CV85 trigatron has a range of about 3.5 to 11 kv with a starting
voltage of 1.5 kv. A trigger voltage of 6.5 kv is sufficient. The curves
of Fig. 8,34a show the variation in range with trigger voltage for a new
CV 125 operated in this circuit. A comparison of these curves with
those of Fig. 8.11 for three WX3226 gaps filled to a pressure of 110 cm of
mercury and operated under the same conditions shows that the range of
a new CV 125 is equivalent to that of three of these gaps in series.
Figure 8.34b shows variations in range with life for a Cl’ 125 operated
at 12 kv, 800 pps, and 0.9 Psec in a 50-ohm circuit. After 375 hr of
SWITCHES FOR LINE-TYPE P ULSERS
operation, this tube was found to fail to deionize at frequent intervals,
agreeing with British experience. Failure of this tube is not due to
electrode erosion, for it operates satisfactorily after being pumped and
refilled. The failure may be due to the formation of nitrogen peroxide,
which is known from experience with rotary gaps to have poor deioniza-
tion characteristics, or it may be due to a reduction in the amount of
oxygen to a value that is insufficient to quench metastable atoms of argon
after the discharge. This reduction is caused bv the combination of
oxygen with the molybdenum and tungsten electrodes during operation. 1
200 300 4
Trigger vr-ltageIn k;-
FIG.S34.-Variation in voltage range of a CV125 three-electrode
voltage (new tube), (b) with time.
Further comparison of the CV125 with a set of three WX3226 gaps
opcrat ed under the same conditions at a pressure of 110 cm of mercury
that a 13-kv trigger voltage is required to obtain the lolvest values
of 1‘,,,,” and J’,,.., for the series gaps, ~vhcreas 8 kv is sufficient for the
three-clcctrodc gap. It is also to be noted that the CY125 requires a
high trigger voltage primarily for good starting, ~vhereas series gaps
re(luirc a high trigger voltage to give a satisfactory operating range as
\ \ -rIl. The time jittm in the CV125 at 12 kv, 800 pps, and 0.9 pscc in a
50-ohm circuit remains less than 0.09 psec throughout life, a value that
is much less than that for cylindrical-electrode aluminum-cathode gaps.
The Iifc of series gaps under the abo~-e conditions is considera})ly longer
than that of the C}”125, and can exceed 1500”hr. .41s0, the deionization
characteristics of the series gaps arc better than those of the trigatrons,
I These ohscrv ations are in accord with reports of work done by thr llrltish at
Birmingham ~niversity, See D. T. Itobcrts, “ Dctcrrnination of Oxygen and Xitro-
gell Pcroxldc in Samplesof Gas from Trigatrons Taken at Various Stages of Iife,”
Birn,inghamUniversity,C. V. D. Report BS/19, 1943.
SEC.8.10] THE THREE-ELECTRODE
FIXED SPARK GAP
as is evidenced by the greater decrease in V~ with increasing recurrence
frequency for the trigatron than for the series gaps.’
Hydrogen-$lled Three-electrode Gap.—It would be desirable to combine
the advantages of the hydrogen or hydrogen-argon gas filling, which m
stable with life, with those of a three-electrode geometry of thetrigatron
type. Unfortunately, the erosion rate of possible electrode materials
in the absence of an oxide coating on the surface is usually high.
An attempt has been made to overcome this difficulty by using
electrodes made by sintering tungsten and barium oxide together,with
nickel as a binder. Statements concerning the erosion rate of these
sintered mixtures have been given in Sec. 8“7. Some three-electrode
tubes have been constructed with these materials, but sufficient tests
have not yet been made to indicate the stability of their characteristics
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