The requirement for scatterometer-combined transmit-receive gain variation knowledge is typically addressed by sampling a portion of the transmit signal, attenuating it with a known-stable attenuation, and coupling it into the receiver chain. This way, the gain variations of the transmit and receive chains are represented by this loop-back calibration signal, and can be subtracted from the received remote radar echo. Certain challenges are presented by this process, such as transmit and receive components that are outside of this loop-back path and are not included in this calibration, as well as the impracticality for measuring the transmit and receive chains’ stability and post fabrication separately, without the resulting measurement errors from the test set up exceeding the requirement for the flight instrument.

To cover the RF stability design challenge, the portions of the scatterometer that are not calibrated by the loop-back, (e.g., attenuators, switches, diplexers, couplers, and coaxial cables) are tightly thermally controlled, and have been characterized over temperature to contribute less than 0.05 dB of calibration error over worst-case thermal variation. To address the verification challenge, including the components that are not calibrated by the loop-back, a stable fiber optic delay line (FODL) was used to delay the transmitted pulse, and to route it into the receiver. In this way, the internal loop-back signal amplitude variations can be compared to the full transmit/receive external path, while the flight hardware is in the worst-case thermal environment.

The practical delay for implementing the FODL is 100 μs. The scatterometer pulse width is 1 ms so a test mode was incorporated early in the design phase to scale the 1 ms pulse at 100-Hz pulse repetition interval (PRI), by a factor of 18, to be a 55 μs pulse with 556 μs PRI. This scaling maintains the duty cycle, thus maintaining a representative thermal state for the RF components.

The FODL consists of an RF-modulated fiber-optic transmitter, 20 km SMF-28 standard single-mode fiber, and a photodetector. Thermoelectric cooling and insulating packaging are used to achieve high thermal stability of the FODL components. The chassis was insulated with 1-in. (≈2.5-cm) thermal isolation foam. Nylon rods support the Micarta plate, onto which are mounted four 5-km fiber spool boxes. A copper plate heat sink was mounted on top of the fiber boxes (with thermal grease layer) and screwed onto the thermoelectric cooler plate. Another thermal isolation layer in the middle separates the fiber-optics chamber from the RF electronics components, which are also mounted on a copper plate that is screwed onto another thermoelectric cooler.

The scatterometer subsystem’s overall stability was successfully verified to be calibratable to within 0.1 dB error in thermal vacuum (TVAC) testing with the fiber-optic delay line, while the scatterometer temperature was ramped from 10 to 30 °C, which is a much larger temperature range than the worst-case expected seasonal variations.

This work was done by Dalia A. McWatters, Craig M. Cheetham, Shouhua Huang, Mark A. Fischman, Anhua J. Chu, and Adam P. Freedman of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-47559

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
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Scatterometer-Calibrated Stability Verification Method

(reference NPO-47559) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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