2011

Dielectric Covered Planar Antennas at Submillimeter Wavelengths for Terahertz Imaging

This technology has potential uses for terahertz radar imagers, radiometers, and spectrometers for earth-science observing instruments.

Most optical systems require antennas with directive patterns. This means that the physical area of the antenna will be large in terms of the wavelength. When non-cooled systems are used, the losses of microstrip or coplanar waveguide lines impede the use of standard patch or slot antennas for a large number of elements in a phased array format.

Waveguide Block with the quartz layer (left) and the silicon lens (right)." class="caption" align="right">Traditionally, this problem has been solved by using silicon lenses. However, if an array of such highly directive antennas is to be used for imaging applications, the fabrication of many closely spaced lenses becomes a problem. Moreover, planar antennas are usually fed by microstrip or coplanar waveguides while the mixer or the detector elements (usually Schottky diodes) are coupled in a waveguide environment. The coupling between the antenna and the detector/mixer can be a fabrication challenge in an imaging array at submillimeter wavelengths.

Antennas excited by a waveguide (TE10) mode makes use of dielectric superlayers to increase the directivity. These antennas create a kind of Fabry-Perot cavity between the ground plane and the first layer of dielectric. In reality, the antenna operates as a leaky wave mode where a leaky wave pole propagates along the cavity while it radiates. Thanks to this pole, the directivity of a small antenna is considerably enhanced.

The antenna consists of a waveguide feed, which can be coupled to a mixer or detector such as a Schottky diode via a standard probe design. The waveguide is loaded with a double-slot iris to perform an impedance match and to suppress undesired modes that can propagate on the cavity. On top of the slot there is an air cavity and on top, a small portion of a hemispherical lens. The fractional bandwidth of such antennas is around 10 percent, which is good enough for heterodyne imaging applications.

The new geometry makes use of a silicon lens instead of dielectric quarter wavelength substrates. This design presents several advantages when used in the submillimeter-wave and terahertz bands:

  • Antenna fabrication compatible with lithographic techniques.
  • Much simpler fabrication of the lens.
  • A simple quarter-wavelength matching layer of the lens will be more efficient if a smaller portion of the lens is used.
  • The directivity is given by the lens diameter instead of the leaky pole (the bandwidth will not depend any more on the directivity but just on the initial cavity).

The feed is a standard waveguide, which is compatible with proven Schottky diode mixer/detector technologies.

The development of such technology will benefit applications where submillimeter-wave heterodyne array designs are required. The main fields are national security, planetary exploration, and biomedicine. For national security, wideband submillimeter radars could be an effective tool for the standoff detection of hidden weapons or bombs concealed by clothing or packaging. In the field of planetary exploration, wideband submillimeter radars can be used as a spectrometer to detect trace concentrations of chemicals in atmospheres that are too cold to rely on thermal imaging techniques. In biomedicine, an imaging heterodyne system could be helpful in detecting skin diseases.

This work was done by Goutam Chattopadhyay, John J. Gill, Anders Skalare, Choonsup Lee, and Nuria Llombart, and Peter H. Siegel of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:
Innovative Technology Assets Management

JPL
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099

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Refer to NPO-46969, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Dielectric Covered Planar Antennas at Submillimeter Wavelengths for Terahertz Imaging (reference NPO-46969) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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