Packaging of MMIC LNA (monolithic microwave integrated circuit low-noise amplifier) chips at frequencies over 200 GHz has always been problematic due to the high loss in the transition between the MMIC chip and the waveguide medium in which the chip will typically be used. In addition, above 200 GHz, wirebond inductance between the LNA and the waveguide can severely limit the RF matching and bandwidth of the final waveguide amplifier module.

This work resulted in the development of a low-loss quartz waveguide transition that includes a capacitive transmission line between the MMIC and the waveguide probe element. This capacitive transmission line tunes out the wirebond inductance (where the wire-bond is required to bond between the MMIC and the probe element). This inductance can severely limit the RF matching and bandwidth of the final waveguide amplifier module.

The amplifier module consists of a quartz E-plane waveguide probe transition, a short capacitive tuning element, a short wire-bond to the MMIC, and the MMIC LNA. The output structure is similar, with a short wire-bond at the output of the MMIC, a quartz E-plane waveguide probe transition, and the output waveguide. The quartz probe element is made of 3-mil quartz, which is the thinnest commercially available material. The waveguide band used is WR4, from 170 to 260 GHz. This new transition and block design is an improvement over prior art because it provides for better RF matching, and will likely yield lower loss and better noise figure.

The development of high-performance, low-noise amplifiers in the 180-to- 700-GHz range has applications for future earth science and planetary instruments with low power and volume, and astrophysics array instruments for molecular spectroscopy.

This frequency band, while suitable for homeland security and commercial applications (such as millimeter-wave imaging, hidden weapons detection, crowd scanning, airport security, and communications), also has applications to future NASA missions. The Global Atmospheric Composition Mission (GACM) in the NRC Decadel Survey will need low-noise amplifiers with extremely low noise temperatures, either at room temperature or for cryogenic applications, for atmospheric remote sensing.

This work was done by Sharmila Padmanabhan, King Man Fung, Pekka P. Kangaslahti, Alejandro Peralta, Mary M. Soria, David M. Pukala, Seth Sin, and Lorene A. Samoska of Caltech; and Stephen Sarkozy and Richard Lai of Northrop Grumman Corporation for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48436

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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