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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.

‘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.


2.1 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

which is hermetically sealed and permits easy measurement of resistance changes. Time
constant of the barretters is of the order of 100 sec.
(b) Negative temperature coefficient type: These are semiconductors. The most popular
type is thermistor. Thermistor is constructed in the form of a small bead of
semiconducting material suspended between two fine wires. This tiny bead, about 0.14
cm in diameter, is composed of a mixture of the oxides of manganese, cobalt, nickel and
copper. It can be mounted directly in a waveguide. Thermistors have longer time
constants (of the order of a second) than barretters. The thermistor is basically more
sensitive than the barretter but it is also much more sensitive to the changes in the
ambient temperature.
Barretter mounts are very similar to detector diode mounts. Thermistors, however, in
most cases require a special arrangement to take into account the ambient temperature

2.2 Microwave power meters

These instruments are designed to process the output of ‘bolometer’ and to represent the
power level on a calibrated scale.
One of the simplest methods is to place the bolometer in one arm of a Wheatstone bridge
as shown in Fig 6.7. The bridge is energized by a regulated DC supply whose amplitude
may be adjusted with R1.

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, bringing the bridge into balance and
causing the meter to read zero. Microwave power is then applied to the thermistor R4
which is mounted in a waveguide or a coaxial Line. Heating effect causes the thermistor
resistance to decrease and unbalances the bridge in proportion to the power applied. This
unbalance current is indicated by the meter, which is calibrated directly in milliwatts.
The unbalanced bridge technique is seldom used in commercial microwave power
meters. Circuit modifications commonly used include self- balancing bridge and
compensation against the variations in ambient temperature. A self balancing bridge
operates on the principle of power substitution. Initially some DC plus some audio-
frequency power is applied to the bolometer and the bridge is balanced. When the
microwave power (to be measured) is incident on the bolometer, the balance of the bridge
is disturbed. This unbalance of the bridge is sensed by an electronic circuit which is so

arranged that an equivalent amount of audio-frequency power is removed from the
bolometer and the balance restored. This reduction in audio-frequency power is measured
with a VTVM and indicates the microwave power under measurement. In a temperature
compensated power meter, another thermistor (R7 in Fig. 6.7) is placed in close thermal
proximity of the thermistor on which the microwave power Is incident. This additional
thermistor R7 is isolated from the microwave power but attains a temperature close to
that of the microwave thermistor R4. 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.

3.1 Basic principles
The simplest method for the measurement of impedance at microwave frequencies is as
follows. The unknown impedance is connected at the end of a slotted coaxial line (or a
slotted waveguide). Microwave power is fed from the other end of the coaxial line (or
waveguide). Unknown impedance reflects a part of this power. This reflection coefficient
is measured by probing the standing wave fields in the slotted line (or wave- guide) by a
suitable arrangement. The reflection coefficient is given by

where Z L is the unknown impedance terminating a line of characteristic impedance Z 0 .

Thus if p is measured and Z 0 is known, Z L can be found. Since in general Z L is
complex, both the magnitude and the phase of p are needed. The magnitude of p may be
found from VSWR measurement, we have

Thus the measurement of impedance involves the measurements of the VSWR and the
distance of voltage minimum from the load. These measurements may be carried out by
using a slotted line and probe arrangement.

3.2 Slotted line and probe

Slotted line is a fundamental tool for microwave measurements. It consists of a section of
waveguide or coaxial line (for measurements in waveguide and coaxial line systems,
respectively) with a longitudinal slot. 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. The slot is located suitably in the
wall of the waveguide such that the disturbance to the wall currents is minimum. For a
rectangular waveguide operated in the dominant mode this location is in the middle of the
broad wall. The location of the slot and the direction of the wall currents in waveguide

and coaxial system is shown in Figs. 6.8 (a) and (b), respectively. Slotted section is
normally mounted in a carriage which also supports the probe moving inside the slot.

Probe is a thin conducting wire which passes through the slot in the slotted line and
couples to the fields in the waveguide. The amount of insertion of the probe in the line
needs careful adjustment. A small insertion results in a poor sensitivity and makes it
difficult to locate the minima of the standing wave pattern. Too deep an insertion, on the
other hand, disturbs the field in the line and may in fact reflect some of incident input
power and thereby lead to inaccurate results. The output of the probe is connected to the
detector in a mount (coaxial) similar to that shown in Fig. 6.3.
The measurement of impedance consists of mounting of the unknown impedance at the
end of a slotted line as shown in Fig. 6.8 (c) and noting VSWR and d min by moving the
probe and observing the output on a VSWR indicator. Knowing VSWR, and d min min, a
graphical construction on Smith chart may be used to calculate Z L .

3.3 Impedance measurement by network analyzer

The method of impedance measurement discussed above is fairly time- consuming and
does not lend itself to automation. 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.

This method is based on direct measurement of complex reflection coefficient. Reflection
coefficient is the ratio of the reflected wave to the incident wave. Thus if the incident
wave and the reflected wave are separated and a mechanism is designed to evaluate their
complex ratio, we can measure impedances directly. A network analyzer performs these
functions and may be described with the help of block diagram in Fig. 6.9. Incident and
reflected waves are sampled by using two ‘directional couplers’ as shown in the figure.

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. 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. An auto-
tuning local oscillator and two identical mixers are used for this purpose. The frequency
conversion is usually carried out in two steps. The second set of mixers is not shown in
the diagram. The two outputs at 278 KHz preserve the relative amplitude and the phase
relationship of the incident and the reflected waves at microwave frequency. Phase
comparison and amplitude comparison is now carried out at 278 KHz frequency by
suitably designed low frequency circuits. 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.
A network analyzer of the type discussed above is an extremely versatile instrument and
may be used for several other measurements.


Microwave frequency can be measured by a number of different mechanical and
electronic techniques. The mechanical devices commonly use circuit elements such as
slotted lines and resonant cavities, both of which depend on a precise measurement or
calibration of physical dimensions for their operation and accuracy. 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. Although electronic frequency measuring systems are usually more complex
and expensive than the mechanical methods of measurement, the electronic systems are
capable of considerably higher accuracy.

5.1 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. If these minima are detected
and the distance between them is measured, the guide wavelength may be determined.
Frequency may be calculated from the value of guide wavelength and the physical
dimensions of the waveguide. Accuracies obtained with this technique are usually limited
to approximately 1 per cent, because the guide wavelength depends critically on the
waveguide dimensions. Frequency measurement in coaxial systems is not dependent
upon the physical dimensions (cross-section) of the slotted coaxial line.

5.2 Use of resonant cavities

This constitutes the most commonly used type of microwave frequency meters (also
called wave-meters). The key element is a cylindrical or coaxial resonant cavity. A
simple sketch of commonly used frequency meter is shown in Fig. 6. 12. The size of the
cylindrical cavity can be varied an adjustable plunger which can be moved by a calibrated
dial knob assembly. The range of the meter depends upon the tuning range of the cavity.
The design of the cavity is such that for a given position of the plunger, the cavity is
resonant only at one frequency in the specified range. The Q factor of the cavity is made
very high, often as high as 5,000.

The cavity is coupled to the waveguide through an iris in the narrow wall of the
waveguide as shown in Fig. 6.12. if the frequency of the wave passing through the
waveguide is different from the resonance frequency of the cavity, the transmission
through the waveguide is not affected. On the other hand, if these two frequencies
coincide a resonant field is set up inside the cavity, and because of the power loss
associated with the cavity the wave passing through the waveguide is attenuated (roughly
by 1 to 3 dB). 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. Since the movement of the cavity plunger is
calibrated, the signal frequency can be read.
Accuracy of 0.1 per cent or better can be obtained with this instrument.
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.
Consequently, 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

5.3 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.
There are also automatic transfer oscillators which make direct display of microwave
frequencies possible. Basic principles of operation of these instruments are discussed

A typical block diagram for a transfer oscillator is shown in Fig. 6. 13. 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. This harmonic output is mixed with
the unknown signa1 frequency.

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, beat frequency output can be
observed. Frequency of the stable frequency source is measured for the null beat
condition. The unknown frequency is an integral multiple of this value. 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 , 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. In fact, this method is often used to calibrate resonant cavity
type wavemeters described earlier.

• 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.
• 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 SWR is equal to unity (Highly desirable) when the load is perfectly matched.
• If the load is purely reactive, the SWR will be infinity. The same load will be
applied for a short circuit or an open loop termination.
• The higher the SWR, the greater the mismatch between the line and load.

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

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 presence of harmonics distorts the standing-wave pattern, because each
harmonic tends to go through maxima and minima at different locations from the
• When trouble of this sort is encountered the customary expedient for eliminating
harmonics is the insertion of a low-pass filter, or a resonant circuit, between the
oscillator and the standing-wave detector.

Special Considerations Relating to Very Low and Very High Standing wave Ratios
• When the standing wave ratio is very low, i.e., when it approaches unity, 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.
– (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.
• When the SWR is very high, then the detector or bolometer draws proportionally
more current at large amplitude of applied voltage, the extra loading which occurs
at the voltage maxima may caused the observed pattern to be seriously disturbed
when the SWR is large.
• Large SWR are perhaps best measured by the use of an attenuator in conjunction
with a crystal. The attenuator is inserted between the probe and the crystal.
• For the measurement of a voltage minimum, the attenuator is set at zero, thus
giving the greatest sensitivity possible, and the probe is inserted only for enough
to give an accurate reading.
• To measure the voltage maximum, the attenuation is increased until the crystal
output produced by the voltage maximum is the same as was obtained from the
voltage minimum. The SWR is then the ratio of the two attenuator settings.
• 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. 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.
• However, 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 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.
• If the results are essentially the same in two cases, it can be assured that the probe
reflection error is in consequential.

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.
• The arrangement of apparatus is the same as given for VSWR measurement.
• The unknown impedance is shown directly connected to the receiving end of the
slotted section. If a connector is used, it must not introduce reflection.
• Under these conditions, the unknown impedance ZL can be determined by
observing the magnitude of S of VSWR, and the distance along the line from ZL
to any convenient voltage or maximum.
• The normalized impedance is given by:

• In measuring distances in connection with a standing wave pattern, it is common

practice to use the minimum, rather than the maxima.
• This is because with high or moderately high SWR the minima are much more
sharply defined their maxima.
• Sometimes, it is not convenient to measure the distance from the unknown
impedance. ZL to the voltage minimum.
• In such cases, one can establish a reference point by first short circuiting the line
at the point where the load ZL is to be attached.
• When the load end of the line is thus short circuited, there is a voltage minimum
at the load, a minimum will also exist at intervals of one half wavelength along
the line towards the generator.
• One of these voltage minima is then used as a reference point instead of using a
load position itself.
• Then remove the short circuit, and place unknown impedance voltage minimum
will then be present on either side of the reference point at a distance less than λ/2.
• The distance d1’ from the reference point to the nearest voltage minimum towards
the generator can then be used in place of d1.
• For more practical work, where the limitations of the equipment do not qualify
extreme precision of computation, it is consuming to compute the unknown load
impedance by Smith chart.