Role of Circulator, Isolator and Power Divider in the C-Band

Microwave Front End System

C. Chandrasekharan, S. Raghavendran & Sumi Sunny
VSSC/ISRO, Amal Jyothi College of Engineering
E-mail :

dividers, attenuators and
characterized and selected.

Abstract - In space communications, the transponder aids
in tracking the launch vehicle. Microwave Front End
System is designed for testing the onboard transponder.
Microwave front end unit acts as an interface to connect
the high power onboard transponder to the ground RF
checkout system with suitable isolation between them.
Microwave front end unit basically consists of microwave
devices like circulator, isolator, attenuator, power divider
and crystal detector with RF cables and adaptors
interconnecting them. In this paper, the devices like
circulator, isolator and power divider are characterized
based on the study of performance of each device in
tandem with the theoretical specification of the devices in
the designated frequency range and design procedure of
microwave front end unit is also explained.



Those selected devices are inter-connected and
tested. Next step is the complete integration including
RF cables routing and device fixation to chassis. Then
integrated level testing is performed and finally it is
deployed in the test bed.

Based on the studies of characteristics and
performance analysis, various microwave devices are
characterized and the required devices like circulators,
isolators, power dividers and attenuators suitable for the
desired application are selected. Those selected devices
are inter-connected and tested. Next step is the complete
integration including RF cables routing and device
fixation to chassis. Then integrated level testing is
performed and finally it is deployed in the test bed.

Keywords - Circulator, Isolator, Microwave Front End Unit,




Microwave front end unit acts as an interface to
connect the high power onboard transponder to the
ground RF checkout system with suitable isolation
between them. For a system like transponder, which is
the system under test (SUT), a stimulus is required for
triggering the system. Upon interrogation, the response
signal from the SUT is obtained and characterized
against the pre-defined test requirements. Here, the front
end unit acts as the centralized unit for triggering the
onboard as well as getting the response and further
processing of the response signal from the SUT.
Microwave front end unit basically consists of
circulator, isolator, attenuator, power divider and crystal
detector with RF cables & adaptors interconnecting
them. Ground RF Checkout system consists of a Signal
Generator as transmitter (trigger for SUT), Spectrum
analyzer, Frequency Counter and Power meter for
processing the response from SUT.In the first step for
the design of a Microwave Front End Unit, the
microwave devices like circulators, Isolators, power

The block diagram of microwave front end unit is
shown below.

Fig.1 : Microwave Front End Unit

ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945, Volume -1, Issue -2, 2013


power entering port 1 leaves port 2. allowing energy to pass in only one direction through the device) when RF energy is applied to them is very important for a number of applications The circulator is a passive device with 3 or 4 ports. insertion loss specifications are relatively small. Their ability to behave nonreciprocally (non reversible. there will be some attenuation to the signal as it travels through the device. power meter.4 dB for octave Ferrite isolators and circulators play a fundamental and valuable role in RF systems.  analyzer measures the Fig: 2 : Energy flow diagram of circulators Fig. The stimulus signal is synthesized in the RF signal generator. a stimulus signal (trigger) is to be sent from the ground RF checkout (radar in real time) to SUT. routing signals wherever a system designer needs them to go.  Spectrum spectrum. Issue -2. and power entering port 3 leaves port 1. Volume -1.ITSI Transactions on Electrical and Electronics Engineering (ITSI-TEEE) To test the launch vehicle transponder (SUT). The higher the insertion loss. port 3 is decoupled. As in any real system. Circulator routes the stimulus signal between the ports with additional isolation in the reverse direction. Both fixed attenuator and variable attenuator attenuates the high power signal to the level suitable for the ground checkout system. ferrite devices that act as traffic conductors for RF energy in a system. yet allows almost all of a signal entering port 1 to reach port 2. They are passive. CHARACTERIZATION OF CIRCULATORS AND ISOLATORS Insertion loss describes how much energy is lost during the process of transferring a signal from one port of an isolator/circulator to another. pulse width and pulse period. so the benefits a system receives from the use of an isolator/circulator are usually worth the energy cost of implementing them. This attenuation is called insertion loss. reaches the SUT. III. The response signal is received through the same antenna and enters port 2 of the circulator and taken out at port 3. It is essentially a measure of how much energy it costs a designer to use an isolator/circulator in their system. This energy is converted into heat on its way through the device. where power is transferred from one port to the other in a prescribed manner. port 1 is decoupled. The output signal is taken via an isolator to provide isolation in addition to the circulator.3 : Energy Flow Diagram of Isolators A piece of ferrite material is used to obtain a non reciprocal effect. The attenuated signal is distributed to the frequency counter. spectrum analyzer and crystal detector through a 4 port power divider. An isolator is simply a circulator with one of its ports terminated with a matched 50Ω load. power entering port 2 leaves port 3. and it is measured in decibels (dB). Typical insertion loss specifications are on the order of 0. it is important to understand some common electrical specifications that tells how well it is capable of performing the application. and isolation. The downlink is from the onboard to the ground. The device has only 2 ports. As stated above. Crystal detector detects the downlink pulse. isolators and circulators are passive components.  Frequency counter measures the frequency. Energy can only enter port 1 and travel to port 2. VSWR. Any energy that enters port 2 will be routed to the matched termination on port 3. The response signal from SUT is to be captured and processed by the ground RF checkout (radar in real time) through the Microwave front end unit. and quickly dissipated as heat. has only one path for energy to flow without significant attenuation. The signal is then taken via Isolator to prevent back reflections and then routed to port 1 of the circulator and taken out at port 2 and through a monostatic antenna. the more energy it costs to use the isolator or circulator. and as a result. so a signal traveling through them has to do so using its own energy. ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945. downlink When selecting an isolator and/or circulator. An RF isolator can be thought of as a diode for RF energy. That means for a 3-port circulator. The three basic specifications for isolators and circulators are insertion loss. However. This behavior heavily attenuates any signal entering port 2 before it reaches port 1. 2013 22 .  The transponder power is measured using power meter. port 2 is decoupled. The uplink is from the ground to the onboard.

signal incident on port 3 are coupled only to port 4 and signals entering port 4 appear only at1. The center section of circulator is a ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945. then a signal applied to one port.7 dB for certain broadband units. Theory and Operation The rectangular guide at port 2 is rotated through 45 degrees with respect to the guide at port 1.VSWR stands for voltage standing wave ratio. 2013 23 . The glass rotates the plane of polarization of light. Fig. This standing wave is produced by energy reflecting off of the boundary. A signal entering the device at port 1 is rotated by 45 degree in the ferrite rod and appears at port 2.5. If all the ports of a circulator are matched.Two other waveguides emerge radially from the circular waveguide at ports 3 and 4.5: The Faraday Rotation Circulator A.The arrows indicate the direction of electric vectors in the waveguide.ITSI Transactions on Electrical and Electronics Engineering (ITSI-TEEE) bandwidth units.The axis of these two guides are parallel to the electric vectors in the guides at port 1 and 2.little or no signal is coupled to ports 3 and 4.. Issue -2. Lower VSWRs mean that there is less energy reflecting off of port 1 of the isolator/circulator and going where you don’t want it to go.Thus.The circular waveguide operates in the H11 mode and the rectangular guides operates in the H10 mode. circular waveguide and a transition to rectangular waveguide is located at each end. however the specification can be as small as 0. and traveling back the way it came. The insertion loss is expressed in dB according to the following formula. Plane polarized light incident upon the glass in a direction parallel to the applied magnetic field becomes polarized in a different plane. Isolation is expressed in decibels according to the equation I (dB) = 10 log 10 Pout 3/Pin1 (2) Fig. Volume -1.the circulator is a 4 port device with the signal path 1-2-3-4-1….and the ratio of this signal to the input signal is called isolation.4 : The Faraday Effect The next parameter which characterizes the reflective property of each port of a circulator is the magnitude of the reflection coefficient Г or VSWR. VSWR is the measure of how much of the signal that you want to send through the isolator will reflect back towards the transmitter that sent it. and as high as 1. A low VSWR spec is always desirable. also called Faraday rotation. The Faraday effect occurs as shown in fig.For the same reasons. The amount of rotation is directly proportional to applied magnetic field and to the distance the light traverse through the glass. will emerge from port 2 with a loss called insertion loss.15 dB for narrowband units. occurs when microwaves of a specific polarization are incident upon ferrite material that is subjected to a magnetic field parallel to the direction of propagation of microwaves.the mode of operations of these guides and the direction of the electric vector of the signal entering at port 1 . First microwave circulator was Faradays rotation circulator. IL (dB) =10 log 10 P out2 /Pin 1 (1) A small part of the input signal also emerges from port 3. for instance to port 1.Because of the locations of the waveguides at port 3 and 4 . This circulator is illustrated in fig. In the case of isolators and circulators. It is a ratio of the maximum voltage to the minimum voltage of a standing wave created by an imperfect impedance match where two boundaries meet (typically where a source meets a load). Michael Faraday discovered in 1845 that a piece of glass become optically active when placed in a strong magnetic field. A similar effect.4.

matched and provides good isolation between the output ports. high isolation is achieved between the ports. Power Dividers can achieve isolation between the output ports while maintaining a matched condition on all ports. Power transmitted between two ports of a network or device is the same regardless of the direction of propagation through the network or device. When the outputs are connected to matched loads for an equal split Wilkinson. the signal at another port. it can perform the multiple task of power splitting as well as power combining. The simplest way this can be done is by using a power splitter/combiner. It provides isolation between the output ports. The device is said to be lossless if ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945. POWER DIVIDER Where I is the identity matrix. One of the main characteristics of power divider is its reciprocity. (7) Various RF applications require power combining and distribution. The power divider used for the design of microwave front end unit is Wilkinson’s power divider. An ideal power divider is lossless. The general equation representing each element of S matrix is given as (5) represents each element of the S matrix where is voltage wave incident on port j and is voltage wave reflected from port i. its s matrix is unitary. or be isolated from. These correspond to signals entering port two and exiting port three and vice versa. the theory of operation of circulators follows from that of optical Faraday Effect. The equalent transmission line circuit for a Wilkinson’s power divider is shown in Figure 6. Volume -1.The scattering matrix in terms of as and is given by = (3) It is simplified as Fig. Isolation is characterized as the ability of a signal at one port to not affect. Based on this relationship between the Smatrix elements of a reciprocal device. the elements and are associated with the isolation between the output ports. The design of the Wilkinson divider is composed of a transmission line (typically microstrip or stripline) that has been split into a specific number of transmission lines. they can also be used to combine power from output ports into the input port. and becomes lossless when the output ports are matched. is capable of being matched at all ports. Reciprocal in the sense. Power dividers are reciprocal devices. a shorting plate is used at the input to connect each of the transmission lines. When the magnitudes of these elements are small. Resistors are connected between each output transmission line and a common junction. each one quarter-wavelength long.e. Then the ratio of reflected voltage wave at port i to incident voltage wave at port j gives which represents each element of S matrics.ITSI Transactions on Electrical and Electronics Engineering (ITSI-TEEE) Although Faraday rotation circulators are seldom used in modern systems. Furthermore. a reciprocal device has a symmetrical S-matrix. 2013 24 . Issue -2. i. Another important feature of power divider is its isolation between the output ports. In Wilkinson’s original proposal. or the S-matrix is equal to its transpose. This causes the connecting (6) for all i and j. the voltages along each output transmission line are of the same magnitude and phase. The characteristics of a power divider can be understood from the scattering matrix. the superscript t represents the transpose of the matrix and the superscript asterisk represents the conjugate of the matrix. Voltage wave incident on the device port is taken as and the voltage wave reflected from the device port is taken as . S matrics relates the voltage waves incident and reflected from the device port considering both magnitude and phase. For a reciprocal device. a unitary matrix implies that the sum of the squares of the elements in a column of the matrix is equal to one. the s matrices is IV.6 : Equalent transmission line circuit for Wilkinsons power divider (4) In the S-matrix. For an ideal power divider which is lossless.

1 PORT INCIDENT VOLTAGE( ) 1 0 VI. [2] Milton A Treuhaft.If a matched source is applied to port one with matched terminations at ports two and three. Furthermore. Fig. By interconnecting these selected devices C-Band microwave front end system is designed for testing of the onboard transponder which aids in tracking the launch vehicle in satellite communications. the S-matrix of the Wilkinson power divider has been derived and confirmed. power dividers. the second column of the scattering matrix can be derived. Senior member.” IEEE Transactions on microwave theory and techniques. analysis and construction of an equal split Wilkinson’s power divider. applying a source at port three instead of port two will yield equivalent S-parameters for the third column of the matrix. IEEE “An annotated bibliography of microwave circulators and isolators: 1968-1975. “Network properties of circulator based on the scattering concept. Similarly.B. making incident voltages at these port equal to zero. CONCLUSION By studying various characteristics and analyzing their performance. [3] Logan J Berens. Due to the bilateral symmetry of the Wilkinson.1 shows the incident and reflected voltages at each port. Issue -2. (12) V. Volume -1. 2013 25 . while also allowing the input to the power divider to be matched.” IRE Transactions on circuit theory. October 1975. the internal resistor that connects the two output ports is equal to the characteristic impedance of the input transmission line multiplied by a factor of two. and consequently. REFLECTED VOLTAGE ( ) 2 [1] Reinhard H. given a matched source at port two and matched loads at ports one and three. port 1 and 3 are matched. The values for the second column of the S-matrix are determined.Marquette University. In the figure. isolators. and crystal detectors are characterized and selected.ITSI Transactions on Electrical and Electronics Engineering (ITSI-TEEE) resistors to have no voltage drop across them. the matched source at port one implies that will be equal to zero. Thus.” 0 3 0 0 Table.7 : Wilkinsons power divider Table.S. the values for and can be shown to be equivalent to and due to the reciprocal nature of the Wilkinson. attenuators. the source at port two is matched making the reflected voltage at port two also equal to zero. dissipate no power. The ideal scattering matrix of the Wilkinson power divider with matched loads is. The necessary impedance of each quarter-wave transmission line is equal to the characteristic impedance of the input transmission line multiplied by a factor of as shown in Figure 4 . Knerr. (8) The total voltage for each port has been derived for the power divider by using even and odd mode analysis. These impedances allow the outputs of the Wilkinson power divider to be isolated and matched. Therefore will equal will equal and will equal . Using this information. (9) (10) (11) The rest of the S parameters can be determined through circuit inspection. various microwave devices such as circulators. “Design. shown below.” [4] Application notes on “Ferrite isolators and circulators.Additionally. REFERENCES ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945.

2013 26 . Lax and K. October 1956.J Button. pp.ITSI Transactions on Electrical and Electronics Engineering (ITSI-TEEE) [5] [6] Takashi Hasegawa. “Ferrites as microwave circuit elements. Seigo Hino. Ltd. [8] B. Katsuyuki Ohira and Takekazu Okada.september 1972.” proceedings of the IRE. Murata Manufacturing Co.44.1386-1393.” ISSN (PRINT) : 2320 – 8945. vol. [7] G. “Low Loss TwoPort Lumped Element Isolator using Improved Gyrator Circuit. “Microwave ferrites and ferrimagnetics.” IEEE Transactions on magnetics..” 2005 IEEE.H Heller. Issue -2. Toshihiro Makino. Yoshihiro Konishi.“New theoretical concept for wideband gyro magnetic devices. Volume -1.