An improved preamplifier circuit has been designed for processing the output of an avalanche photodiode (APD) that is used in a high-resolution laser ranging system to detect laser pulses returning from a target. The improved circuit stands in contrast to prior such circuits in which the APD output current pulses are made to pass, variously, through wide-band or narrow-band load networks before preamplification. A major disadvantage of the prior wide-band load networks is that they are highly susceptible to noise, which degrades timing resolution. A major disadvantage of the prior narrow-band load networks is that they make it difficult to sample the amplitudes of the narrow laser pulses ordinarily used in ranging.

In the improved circuit, a load resistor is connected to the APD output and its value is chosen so that the time constant defined by this resistance and the APD capacitance is large, relative to the duration of a laser pulse. The APD capacitance becomes initially charged by the pulse of current generated by a return laser pulse, so that the rise time of the load-network output is comparable to the duration of the return pulse. Thus, the load-network output is characterized by a fast-rising leading edge, which is necessary for accurate pulse timing.

On the other hand, the resistancecapacitance combination constitutes a low-pass filter, which helps to suppress noise. The long time constant causes the load-network output pulse to have a long shallow-sloping trailing edge, which makes it easy to sample the amplitude of the return pulse. The output of the load network is fed to a low-noise, wide-band amplifier. The amplifier must be a wideband one in order to preserve the sharp pulse rise for timing. The suppression of noise and the use of a low-noise amplifier enable the ranging system to detect relatively weak return pulses.

This work was done by Alexander Abramovici and Jacob Chapsky of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at under the Electronics/Computers category. NPO-30598