Microwave Measurements

Microwaves are considerably different from electromagnetic waves at lower frequencies in respect of the transmission structures, the resonators, the sources and also with regard to the network representation. Consequently, the measurement techniques, and even the quantities that can be measured are different for the microwave frequency range. Commonly used definitions of voltage and current become vague at microwave frequencies. Therefore, power and impedance become the principal measurable quantities. Measurement of microwave power is based on either the detection of microwaves by a non- linear resistor or by the measurement of heat produced when a certain amount of microwave power is dissipated in a resistive load. Detection of microwave signals is generally used for relative power measurements. This is generally the case when two power levels are to be compared, such as in the measurement of standing wave ratio in waveguides, in which case only the ratio of maximum to minimum voltage is desired. On the other hand, the methods based on thermal effects are used when absolute power levels (in watts) are required. Measurement of impedance at microwave frequencies is accomplished by measuring the reflection coefficient caused by the given unknown impedance when it is accomplished by measuring the reflection coefficient caused by the given unknown impedance. 1. DETECTION OF MICROWAVES ‘Detection’ of microwaves is carried out for relative measurement of microwave power. In order to indicate relative power levels, it is necessary to detect the microwave signals and obtain a proportional. DC signal. 1.1 Detector diodes Diodes used at lower frequencies, both the vacuum tubes and the semiconductor diodes, are not as such useful for microwave frequencies. Vacuum tube diodes suffer from ‘transit time effects’ described earlier. Ordinary semiconductor diodes have large junction capacitance which makes them unsuitable for use at microwave frequencies. The diodes that can be used for detection of microwaves are specially designed point contact diodes or metal-semiconductor Schottky barrier diodes. 2. MICROWAVE POWER MEASUREMENT 2.1 Bolometers The detector-amplifier method described in the previous section is not suitable for an absolute measurement of the microwave power (in watts). Microwave power meters used for this purpose are based on the conversion of microwave power into thermal energy. These instruments employ sensing devices called bolometer. Microwave power incident on the bolometer raises its temperature. The change in the temperature causes variation in the DC resistance of the bolometer. There arc two general classifications of bolometer. (a) Positive temperature coefficient type: These are conductors, of which barretter is a typical example. Barretter consists of a very fine platinum wire mounted in a holder


This unbalance current is indicated by the meter. bringing the bridge into balance and causing the meter to read zero. Thermistors. Microwave power is then applied to the thermistor R4 which is mounted in a waveguide or a coaxial Line. This tiny bead. 2. This unbalance of the bridge is sensed by an electronic circuit which is so 2 . about 0. however. (b) Negative temperature coefficient type: These are semiconductors. Time constant of the barretters is of the order of 100 sec. Since R4 is a thermistor. its resistance may be controlled by the heating caused by the current through it and is thus adjusted equal to R5. When the microwave power (to be measured) is incident on the bolometer. Circuit modifications commonly used include self. cobalt. Initially some DC plus some audiofrequency power is applied to the bolometer and the bridge is balanced.balancing bridge and compensation against the variations in ambient temperature. the balance of the bridge is disturbed. which is calibrated directly in milliwatts. One of the simplest methods is to place the bolometer in one arm of a Wheatstone bridge as shown in Fig 6. The bridge is energized by a regulated DC supply whose amplitude may be adjusted with R1. A self balancing bridge operates on the principle of power substitution. The thermistor is basically more sensitive than the barretter but it is also much more sensitive to the changes in the ambient temperature.2 Microwave power meters These instruments are designed to process the output of ‘bolometer’ and to represent the power level on a calibrated scale. Heating effect causes the thermistor resistance to decrease and unbalances the bridge in proportion to the power applied. The unbalanced bridge technique is seldom used in commercial microwave power meters. Thermistors have longer time constants (of the order of a second) than barretters. is composed of a mixture of the oxides of manganese.which is hermetically sealed and permits easy measurement of resistance changes. It can be mounted directly in a waveguide. Thermistor is constructed in the form of a small bead of semiconducting material suspended between two fine wires. The most popular type is thermistor.7. nickel and copper. in most cases require a special arrangement to take into account the ambient temperature variations.14 cm in diameter. Barretter mounts are very similar to detector diode mounts.

The location of the slot and the direction of the wall currents in waveguide 3 . This additional thermistor R7 is isolated from the microwave power but attains a temperature close to that of the microwave thermistor R4. another thermistor (R7 in Fig.1 Basic principles The simplest method for the measurement of impedance at microwave frequencies is as follows. Z L can be found. The unknown impedance is connected at the end of a slotted coaxial line (or a slotted waveguide). 3. The reflection coefficient is given by where Z L is the unknown impedance terminating a line of characteristic impedance Z 0 . respectively) with a longitudinal slot. Thus if p is measured and Z 0 is known. The slot is located suitably in the wall of the waveguide such that the disturbance to the wall currents is minimum.arranged that an equivalent amount of audio-frequency power is removed from the bolometer and the balance restored. 6. Since in general Z L is complex. This reflection coefficient is measured by probing the standing wave fields in the slotted line (or wave. This slot is roughly 1 mm wide and allows an electric field probe to enter the waveguide (or the coaxial Line) for measurement of the relative magnitude of field at the location of the probe. For a rectangular waveguide operated in the dominant mode this location is in the middle of the broad wall. Change in resistance of R7 (due to ambient temperature variations) compensates for corresponding change in R4 by controlling the DC power that is applied to the bridge. IMPEDANCE MEASUREMENTS 3. In a temperature compensated power meter. Microwave power is fed from the other end of the coaxial line (or waveguide). These measurements may be carried out by using a slotted line and probe arrangement. both the magnitude and the phase of p are needed. we have Thus the measurement of impedance involves the measurements of the VSWR and the distance of voltage minimum from the load.guide) by a suitable arrangement.7) is placed in close thermal proximity of the thermistor on which the microwave power Is incident. It consists of a section of waveguide or coaxial line (for measurements in waveguide and coaxial line systems. Unknown impedance reflects a part of this power. 3. The magnitude of p may be found from VSWR measurement. This reduction in audio-frequency power is measured with a VTVM and indicates the microwave power under measurement.2 Slotted line and probe Slotted line is a fundamental tool for microwave measurements.

on the other hand. 3.8 (a) and (b). Too deep an insertion. Use of a network analyzer is more convenient when rapid measurements over a broad frequency range are required or when variations of impedance with respect to some circuit parameter are to be monitored. a graphical construction on Smith chart may be used to calculate Z L .8 (c) and noting VSWR and d min by moving the probe and observing the output on a VSWR indicator.3 Impedance measurement by network analyzer The method of impedance measurement discussed above is fairly time. respectively. The output of the probe is connected to the detector in a mount (coaxial) similar to that shown in Fig. and d min min. Slotted section is normally mounted in a carriage which also supports the probe moving inside the slot.3.and coaxial system is shown in Figs. disturbs the field in the line and may in fact reflect some of incident input power and thereby lead to inaccurate results. 4 . Knowing VSWR. 6. The amount of insertion of the probe in the line needs careful adjustment. 6. 6. A small insertion results in a poor sensitivity and makes it difficult to locate the minima of the standing wave pattern. The measurement of impedance consists of mounting of the unknown impedance at the end of a slotted line as shown in Fig. Probe is a thin conducting wire which passes through the slot in the slotted line and couples to the fields in the waveguide.consuming and does not lend itself to automation.

Reflection coefficient is the ratio of the reflected wave to the incident wave.9. Outputs of these two directional couplers are fed to a harmonic frequency converter which translates the frequency from the microwave range to a fixed frequency of 278 KHz. The phase and amplitude information may now be given to a CRO for direct display of impedance on a Smith chart overlay placed over the CRO screen. Thus if the incident wave and the reflected wave are separated and a mechanism is designed to evaluate their complex ratio. Phase comparison and amplitude comparison is now carried out at 278 KHz frequency by suitably designed low frequency circuits. A network analyzer performs these functions and may be described with the help of block diagram in Fig. The second set of mixers is not shown in the diagram. A network analyzer of the type discussed above is an extremely versatile instrument and may be used for several other measurements. we can measure impedances directly. 6. An autotuning local oscillator and two identical mixers are used for this purpose. 5. The frequency conversion is usually carried out in two steps. The two outputs at 278 KHz preserve the relative amplitude and the phase relationship of the incident and the reflected waves at microwave frequency. The directional coupler 1 couples a fraction of the incident wave to the branch 1 and the directional coupler 2 feeds a fraction of the reflected power to the branch 2. Incident and reflected waves are sampled by using two ‘directional couplers’ as shown in the figure.This method is based on direct measurement of complex reflection coefficient. FREQUENCY MEASUREMENT 5 .

Frequency measurement in coaxial systems is not dependent upon the physical dimensions (cross-section) of the slotted coaxial line. because the guide wavelength depends critically on the waveguide dimensions.1 Use of slotted line This technique depends on the fact that standing waves set up in the transmission line or a waveguide produce minima every half wavelength apart. The Q factor of the cavity is made very high. the cavity is resonant only at one frequency in the specified range. If these minima are detected and the distance between them is measured. often as high as 5. The mechanical devices commonly use circuit elements such as slotted lines and resonant cavities.Microwave frequency can be measured by a number of different mechanical and electronic techniques. The key element is a cylindrical or coaxial resonant cavity. Although electronic frequency measuring systems are usually more complex and expensive than the mechanical methods of measurement. 6. both of which depend on a precise measurement or calibration of physical dimensions for their operation and accuracy. Accuracies obtained with this technique are usually limited to approximately 1 per cent. The design of the cavity is such that for a given position of the plunger. the guide wavelength may be determined. The range of the meter depends upon the tuning range of the cavity. The electronic devices are primarily frequency counters and high frequency heterodyne systems which compare harmonics of a known lower frequency with the unknown microwave frequency. The size of the cylindrical cavity can be varied an adjustable plunger which can be moved by a calibrated dial knob assembly. Frequency may be calculated from the value of guide wavelength and the physical dimensions of the waveguide.000. the electronic systems are capable of considerably higher accuracy. 12. 5. A simple sketch of commonly used frequency meter is shown in Fig. 6 . 5.2 Use of resonant cavities This constitutes the most commonly used type of microwave frequency meters (also called wave-meters).

Since the movement of the cavity plunger is calibrated. 6. 7 . The resonant frequency of a cavity frequency meter is determined primarily by its physical configuration and the dielectric constant of the medium inside the cavity. if these two frequencies coincide a resonant field is set up inside the cavity. Accuracy of 0.12. the signal frequency can be read. If there is an indicating instrument (standing wave indicator or the power meter) connected such that the frequency meter is in between the source and the indicator the indicating instrument will show a dip. the transmission through the waveguide is not affected. Consequently.3 Electronic techniques for frequency measurement These techniques are based on the comparison of the unknown frequency with a harmonic of the known standard frequency. Instruments that use null-beating technique for this comparison are known as transfer oscillators. these frequency meters are commonly affected by temperature changes (which cause differential expansions in the cavity) and humidity (which causes a slight change of the dielectric constant of the air inside the cavity). These effects can be minimized by use of hermetically sealed cavity and special temperature compensating materials. On the other hand. Basic principles of operation of these instruments are discussed below. 5. and because of the power loss associated with the cavity the wave passing through the waveguide is attenuated (roughly by 1 to 3 dB).The cavity is coupled to the waveguide through an iris in the narrow wall of the waveguide as shown in Fig. There are also automatic transfer oscillators which make direct display of microwave frequencies possible. if the frequency of the wave passing through the waveguide is different from the resonance frequency of the cavity.1 per cent or better can be obtained with this instrument.

the greater the mismatch between the line and load. The unknown frequency is an integral multiple of this value. • The SWR is equal to unity (Highly desirable) when the load is perfectly matched. Signal from a stable frequency source is amplified and fed to a harmonic generator which provides a comb of frequencies in the desired microwave range.TRANSFER OSCILLATORS A typical block diagram for a transfer oscillator is shown in Fig. The same load will be applied for a short circuit or an open loop termination. If the frequency of the stable frequency source is varied and the mixer output connected through a detector to an indicator such as an oscilloscope. this method is often used to calibrate resonant cavity type wavemeters described earlier. The value of the integral multiplier can be obtained by noting the next higher frequency which produces null-beat. If two frequencies are f 1 and f 2 . This harmonic output is mixed with the unknown signa1 frequency. 6. 13. VSWR MEASUREMENT • The ratio of maximum current to minimum current along a transmission line is called the standing wave ratio OR • it is the ratio of maximum to minimum voltage which is equal to the current ratio. Frequency of the stable frequency source is measured for the null beat condition. 6. • The SWR is a measure of the mismatch between the load and the line and is the first and most important quantity calculated for a particular load. the unknown frequency f may be found by the following equations: Eliminating n we may write Since f 1 and f 2 can be measured very accurately this method provides very precise frequency ‘measurements. 8 . • If the load is purely reactive. the SWR will be infinity. • The higher the SWR. In fact. beat frequency output can be observed.

This is because in addition to the voltage induced in the loop by the magnetic field which is proportional to the current in the line. into extended into the line the shortest distance that will give a satisfactory indication. as seen from the main transmission line. To this probe is connected to one end of the SWR detector. along which moves a traveling carriage carrying a probe that projects through the slot. As a further means of minimizing the effect of the probe. and is provided with a movable short circuit in order to tune the system to give maximum rectified voltage. A scale must be provided so that the position of the probe can be accurately defined with respect to the end of the line where the unknown impedance is to be connected. a crystal detector can be used to rectify this radio-frequency voltage. This adjustment also ensures that the probe circuit. to sample the current along the standing-wave detector instead of the voltage. A stub line is usually included as a part of the probe. power loss increases with SWR. The mechanical supports for the traveling carriage must be accurately constructed so that the probe projects into the line to a constant depth as the carriage moves along the line. The objective of the Standing wave detector is to sample the voltage along the transmission Line. The difficulty is that such a loop tends to give an indication that depends on the line voltage as well as the line current. It is also possible to use a bolometer instead of the crystal and for the precise work. and to the other end is connected the unknown impedance. The probe that projects through the slot into the line provides this sampling. The voltage probe on the other hand is relatively free from the influence of the magnetic field. In this way the probe causes a minimum of disturbance to the fields within the coaxial line. there is also an induced voltage resulting from the electric field that terminates on the loop. The value of SWR that exists on a line is ordinarily determined by SWR detector. presents a very high impedance. and thus cause a voltage to appear between the probe and the outer conductor of the line leading from the probe. 9 . since some of the electric field lines will then terminate upon the probe. In this case. the probe would consist of a small loop projecting through the slot. and so a low value of SWR is always sought except when the transmission line is being used as a pure reactance or as a tuned circuit. It is possible at least theoretically. this may be highly desirable.• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • In practical lines. As shown in Fig. This consists of a length of line with an axial slot. the rectified voltage is then amplified and indicated upon a meter.

between the oscillator and the standing-wave detector. The SWR is then the ratio of the two attenuator settings. • Large SWR are perhaps best measured by the use of an attenuator in conjunction with a crystal. and the probe is inserted only for enough to give an accurate reading.. then the detector or bolometer draws proportionally more current at large amplitude of applied voltage. when it approaches unity. • For the measurement of a voltage minimum. The attenuator is inserted between the probe and the crystal. • If the results are essentially the same in two cases. the extra loading which occurs at the voltage maxima may caused the observed pattern to be seriously disturbed when the SWR is large. – (ii) The imperfections in the mechanical design of the SW detector that result in the irregular variations in the probe voltage as the carriage moved along the line is perfectly terminated. because each harmonic tends to go through maxima and minima at different locations from the fundamental. • To measure the voltage maximum. 10 . This results from the fact that the probe projecting into the coaxial line is in itself a discontinuity and will cause reflection. • The effect of the reflections can be computed and a correction applied.Oscillator Considerations • It is essential that the oscillator which serves as the energy source for the measurement produce an output wave that is free of harmonic frequencies. the corrections are not easy to calculate and it is much better if they can be made negligible by keeping the probe depth to an absolute minimum. the attenuation is increased until the crystal output produced by the voltage maximum is the same as was obtained from the voltage minimum. • However. thus giving the greatest sensitivity possible. • The presence of harmonics distorts the standing-wave pattern. • There is one sort of error in SWR measurement that can occur even when the mechanical design of the standing wave detector is essentially perfect. it can be assured that the probe reflection error is in consequential.e. or a resonant circuit. • When the SWR is very high. i. the attenuator is set at zero. the accuracy of the measurement is disturbed by two types of errors: – (i) Small reflections due to discontinuities at or near the junctions where the line is connected to the load. • When trouble of this sort is encountered the customary expedient for eliminating harmonics is the insertion of a low-pass filter. Special Considerations Relating to Very Low and Very High Standing wave Ratios • When the standing wave ratio is very low. • The presence of such a probe error can be checked by first making a standing wave measurement with minimum feasible depth and then repeating the measurement with a slightly greater depth.

The distance d1’ from the reference point to the nearest voltage minimum towards the generator can then be used in place of d1. it must not introduce reflection. This is because with high or moderately high SWR the minima are much more sharply defined their maxima. the unknown impedance ZL can be determined by observing the magnitude of S of VSWR. it is not convenient to measure the distance from the unknown impedance. where the limitations of the equipment do not qualify extreme precision of computation. it is common practice to use the minimum. Then remove the short circuit.Measurement of Impedance by the Use of Standing Wave Detector • • • • • The standing waves that exist on a transmission line of negligible attenuation when the load or terminating impedance is different from the characteristic impedance of the line can be used as the basis of measuring load impedance. When the load end of the line is thus short circuited. The unknown impedance is shown directly connected to the receiving end of the slotted section. In such cases. and the distance along the line from ZL to any convenient voltage or maximum. One of these voltage minima is then used as a reference point instead of using a load position itself. Sometimes. and place unknown impedance voltage minimum will then be present on either side of the reference point at a distance less than λ/2. one can establish a reference point by first short circuiting the line at the point where the load ZL is to be attached. If a connector is used. a minimum will also exist at intervals of one half wavelength along the line towards the generator. The arrangement of apparatus is the same as given for VSWR measurement. 11 . For more practical work. rather than the maxima. ZL to the voltage minimum. The normalized impedance is given by: • • • • • • • • • In measuring distances in connection with a standing wave pattern. there is a voltage minimum at the load. Under these conditions. it is consuming to compute the unknown load impedance by Smith chart.

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