Oscillation or instability is a situation that must be avoided for reliable hybrid DC/DC converters. A real-time electronics measurement technique was developed to detect catastrophic oscillations at early stages for hybrid DC/DC converters. It is capable of identifying low-level oscillation and determining the degree of the oscillation at a unique frequency for every individual model of the converters without disturbing their normal operations. This technique is specially developed for space-used hybrid DC/DC converters, but it is also suitable for most of commercial and military switching-mode power supplies.

This is a weak-electronic-signal detection technique to detect hybrid DC/DC converter oscillation presented as a specific noise signal at power input pins. It is based on principles of feedback control loop oscillation and RF signal modulations, and is realized by using signal power spectral analysis. On the power spectrum, a channel power amplitude at characteristic frequency (CPcf) and a channel power amplitude at switching frequency (CPsw) are chosen as oscillation level indicators. If the converter is stable, the CPcf is a very small pulse and the CPsw is a larger, clear, single pulse. At early stage of oscillation, the CPcf increases to a certain level and the CPsw shows a small pair of sideband pulses around it. If the converter oscillates, the CPcf reaches to a higher level and the CPsw shows more high-level sideband pulses. A comprehensive stability index (CSI) is adopted as a quantitative measure to accurately assign a degree of stability to a specific DC/DC converter. The CSI is a ratio of normal and abnormal power spectral density, and can be calculated using specified and measured CPcf and CPsw data.

The novel and unique feature of this technique is the use of power channel amplitudes at characteristic frequency and switching frequency to evaluate stability and identify oscillations at an early stage without interfering with a DC/DC converter’s normal operation. This technique eliminates the probing problem of a gain/phase margin method by connecting the power input to a spectral analyzer. Therefore, it is able to evaluate stability for all kinds of hybrid DC/DC converters with or without remote sense pins, and is suitable for real-time and in-circuit testing. This frequency-domain technique is more sensitive to detect oscillation at early stage than the time-domain method using an oscilloscope.

This work was done by Bright L. Wang of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-15777-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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