This device is a biasable, submillimeter-wave, balanced mixer fabricated using JPL’s monolithic membrane process — a simplified version of planar membrane technology. The primary target application is instrumentation used for analysis of atmospheric constituents, pressure, temperature, winds, and other physical and chemical properties of the atmospheres of planets and comets. Other applications include high-sensitivity gas detection and analysis. This innovation uses a balanced configuration of two diodes allowing the radio frequency (RF) signal and local oscillator (LO) inputs to be separated. This removes the need for external diplexers that are inherently narrow-band, bulky, and require mechanical tuning to change frequency. Additionally, this mixer uses DC bias-ability to improve its performance and versatility.
In order to solve problems relating to circuit size, the GaAs membrane process was created. As much of the circuitry as possible is fabricated on-chip, making the circuit monolithic. The remainder of the circuitry is precision-machined into a waveguide block that holds the GaAs circuit. The most critical alignments are performed using micron-scale semiconductor technology, enabling wide bandwidth and high operating frequencies. The balanced mixer gets superior performance with less than 2 mW of LO power. This can be provided by a simple twostage multiplier chain following an amplifier at around 90 GHz. Further, the diodes are arranged so that they can be biased. Biasing pushes the diodes closer to their switching voltage, so that less LO power is required to switch the diodes on and off.
In the photo, the diodes are at the right end of the circuit. The LO comes from the waveguide at the right into a reduced-height section containing the diodes. Because the diodes are in series to the LO signal, they are both turned on and off simultaneously once per LO cycle. Conversely, the RF signal is picked up from the RF waveguide by the probe at the left, and flows rightward to the diodes. Because the RF is in a quasi-TEM (suspended, microstriplike) mode, it impinges on the diodes in an anti-parallel mode that does not couple to the waveguide mode. This isolates the LO and RF signals. This operation is similar to a cross-bar mixer used at low frequencies, except the RF signal enters through the backshort end of the waveguide rather than through the side. The RF probe also conveys the down-converted intermediate frequency (IF) signal out to an off-chip circuit board through a simple LC low-pass filter to the left as indicated. The bias is brought to the diodes through a bypass capacitor at the top.
This work was done by Peter Siegel, Erich Schlecht, Imran Mehdi, John Gill, James Velebir, Raymond Tsang, Robert Dengler, and Robert Lin of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact