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ECE 144A Electromagnetic Fields and Waves Bob York

Why is 50- Coaxial Line so Special Anyway?

Field Analysis of Coax:

The coaxial line segment shown above is ¯lled with a dielectric ², and is assumed to be driven by a potential
di®erence V between the inner and outer conductors, which induces a charge §Q on the surface of each
conductor. The charge will be distributed uniformly along the length ¢z of the coax.


The electric ¯eld will be radial Zby

Z symmetry.ZZZ
From Gauss' law
° ²E ¢ dS = ½ dV ) Er = (1)
Which gives a voltage
Z a
V =¡ E ¢ d` = ln(b=a) (2)
b 2¼²¢z

The capacitance per unit length is given by

Q 2¼²
C= = [F/m] (3)
V ¢z ln(b=a)
From Ampµere's law,
H ¢ d` = I0 ) HÁ = (4)

The inductance per unit length is de¯ned by

1 ¹
L= B ¢ dS = ln(b=a) [H/m] (5)
I¢z 2¼
The characteristic impedance is therefore
L ´
Z0 = = ln(b=a) (6)
C 2¼
Power Handling Capacity:
Dielectric breakdown will occur in the region between the two conductors if the electric ¯eld exceeds a certain
critical value. The ¯eld strength is a function of the applied voltage and line geometry. Using (1) and (2)
we can express the electric ¯eld as
Er = (7)
r ln(b=a)

This shows that the ¯eld is largest near the center conductor, so
E max = (8)
a ln(b=a)
The peak power transmitted down the line is then given by
2¼ 2 2
P = V 2 =Z0 = a E max ln(b=a) (9)
and thus the maximum power °ow is in°uenced by the line geometry. To ¯nd the optimum conductor sizes,
we can look for the value of a which maximizes (9)
@P @ ¡ 2 ¢
/ a ln b ¡ a2 ln a = a [2 ln(b=a) ¡ 1] = 0 (10)
@a @a
This equation is satis¯ed when b=a = 1:65, which gives an optimum characteristic impedance of Z0 = 30 -
for maximum power transmission in a coaxial air-line.
From the distributed circuit model for a transmission-line, we found that the attenuation constant (for
low-loss lines) is
®¼ + (11)
2Z 0 2
where R is the series resistance per unit length, and G is the shunt conductance per unit length. Physically,
where does this loss come from? The series resistance R comes from Ohmic losses in the metal conductors.
Using a sheet resistivity of Rs, the then total resistance per unit length is just
µ ¶
Rs 1 1
R= + (12)
2¼ b a
The shunt conductance comes from loss in the dielectric material. If the dielectric has a small conductivity
¾, then a small current can °ow radially through the material according to Jr = ¾E r. The total conduction
current through the dielectric is then
Id = 2¼r¢zJr = 2¼r¢z¾E r (13)
Using (7), the conductance G is expressed as
I 2¼¾
G= = (14)
V ¢z ln(b=a)
Substituting (12) and (14) into (11), we can ¯nd the optimum line dimensions for lowest attenuation,
@® @ (1=b ¡ 1=a)
=0 /
@a @a ln(b=a) (15)
0 = 1 + a=b ¡ ln(b=a)
This equation is satis¯ed for b=a = 3:6, which gives an optimum characteristic impedance of Z0 = 77 - for
lowest attenuation in a coaxial air-line.

The best compromise:

The expressions for attenuation and power handling are plotted below as a function of characteristic
impedance for a coaxial air-line. An impedance of around 50 - gives the best overall performance.


1.5 Attenuation
Normalized Values

minimum at 77 Ω


Power handling
0.5 maximum at 30 Ω

10 100
Characteristic Impedance