Two documents discuss a breadboard version of advanced transponders that, when fully developed, would be installed on future spacecraft to fly in deep space. These transponders will be required to be capable of operation on any deepspace- communications uplink frequency channel between 7,145 and 7,235 MHz, and any downlink frequency channel between 8,400 and 8,500 MHz. The document focuses on the design and operation of frequency synthesizers for the receiver and transmitter. Heretofore, frequency synthesizers in deep-space transponders have been based on dielectric resonator oscillators (DROs), which do not have the wide tuning bandwidth necessary to tune over all channels in the uplink or downlink frequency bands. To satisfy the requirement for tuning bandwidth, the present frequency synthesizers are based on voltage-controlled- oscillator (VCO) phase-locked loops (PLLs) implemented by use of monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) implemented using inGaP heterojunction bipolar transistor (HBT) technology. MMIC VCO PLL frequency synthesizers similar to the present ones have been used in commercial and military applications but, until now, have exhibited too much phase noise for use in deep-space transponders. The present frequency synthesizers contain advanced MMIC VCOs, which use HBT technology and have lower levels of flicker (1/f) phase noise. When these MMIC VCOs are used with high-speed MMIC frequency dividers, it becomes possible to obtain the required combination of frequency agility and low phase noise.

This work was done by Scott Smith, Narayan Mysoor, James Lux, and Brian Cook of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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