NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) has developed a High-Power Solid-State Power Amplifier System that combines 1-KW modules (16 amps total) to generate up to 16KW of radio frequency (RF) power from 230 MHz. The NASA device is a first step toward increasing the power of solid-state power amp devices so that they might replace the more cumbersome vacuum tube amps for some applications. Also, when vacuum tube amps fail, a total power failure occurs. Since the NASA device is a system of amplifiers, it enables graceful failure, meaning one or more stages can fail and the system will continue to operate, although at reduced power.

Existing state-of-the-art power amplification at high powers has been almost exclusively provided by vacuum tube amplifiers. The power levels of current solid-state power amplifiers are quite low (15KW) compared to the power levels of current vacuum tube amplifiers (10s MW); however, the enormous size and weight of the vacuum tube amplifiers can be problematic.

The system includes a receiver, splitters, a set of solid-state amplifier units, multiport combiners, and a level control protection circuit. It enables scalability to allow variable power — 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 9-, 12-, and 16-KW units are possible. Cost averages $1/Watt ($16,000 for a 16-KW unit). The system provides 1 Watt of output power for every 0.1 to 1.0 pound of weight, compared to vacuum tube amps that generate 1 W for every 1 to 5 pounds of weight.

NASA’s Technology Transfer Program offers commercial licensing agreements to ensure its pioneering research finds secondary uses that benefit the economy, create jobs, and improve quality of life. For more information about licensing, please contact Clark Darty at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 256-544-2728.


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.