A voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) that operates in the frequency range from 77.5 to 83.5 GHz has been constructed in the form of a monolithic microwave integrated circuit (MMIC) that includes high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs). This circuit is a prototype of electronically tunable signal sources in the 75-to-110-GHz range, needed for communication, imaging, and automotive radar applications, among others.

Figure 1. This MMIC HEMT Oscillator occupies a chip with dimensions of 1.22 mm by 1.3 mm by 50 μm.

This oscillator (see Figure 1) includes two AlInAs/GaInAs/InP HEMTs. One HEMT serves mainly as an oscillator gain element. The other HEMT serves mainly as a varactor for controlling the frequency: the frequency-control element is its gate-to-source capacitance, which is varied by changing its gate supply voltage.

The gain HEMT is biased for class-A operation (meaning that current is conducted throughout the oscillation cycle). Grounded coplanar waveguides are used as impedance-matching transmission lines, the input and output matching being chosen to sustain oscillation and maximize output power. Air bridges are placed at discontinuities to suppress undesired slot electromagnetic modes. A high density of vias is necessary for suppressing a parallel-plate electromagnetic mode that is undesired because it can propagate energy into the MMIC substrate.

Figure 2. The Output Power and Power Efficiency of the frequency oscillator were measured as functions of frequency over its 6-GHz-wide tuning range.

Previous attempts at constructing HEMT-based oscillators yielded circuits with relatively low levels of output power and narrow tuning ranges. For example, one HEMT VCO reported in the literature had an output power of 7 dBm (≈5 mW) and a tuning range 2-GHz wide centered approximately at a nominal frequency of 77 GHz. In contrast, as shown in Figure 2, the present MMIC HEMT VCO puts out a power of 12.5 dBm (≈18 mW) or more over the 6-GHz-wide frequency range from 77.5 to 83.5 GHz.

This work was done by Lorene Samoska of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratoryand Vesna Radisic, Miro Micovic, Ming Hu, Paul Janke, Catherine Ngo, and Loi Nguyen of HRL Laboratories, LLC.