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The Direct Digital Modulation of Traveling Wave TubesTraveling wave tube (TWT) technology, first described by Rudolf Kompfner in the early 1940s, has been a key component of space missions from the earliest communication satellites in the 1960s to the Cassini probe today. TWTs are essentially signal amplifiers that have the special capability of operating at microwave frequencies. The microwave frequency range, which spans from approximately 500 MHz to 300 GHz, is shared by many technologies including cellular phones, satellite television, space communication, and radar. TWT devices are superior in reliability, weight, and efficiency to solid-state amplifiers at the high power and frequency levels required for most space missions. TWTs have three main components -an electron gun, slow wave structure, and collector. The electron gun generates an electron beam that moves along the length of the tube axis, inside of the slow wave circuit. At the same time, the inputted signal is slowed by its travel through the coils of the helical slow wave circuit. The interaction of the electron beam and this slowed signal produces a transfer of kinetic energy to the signal, and in turn, amplification. At the end of its travel, the spent electron beam moves into the collector where its remaining energy is dissipated as heat or harnessed for reuse. TWTs can easily produce gains in the tens of decibels, numbers that are suitable for space missions. To date, however, TWTs have typically operated at fixed levels of gain. This gain is determined by various, unchanging, physical factors of the tube. Traditionally, to achieve varying gain, an input signal s amplitude has had to first be modulated by a separate device before being fed into the TWT. This is not always desirable, as significant distortion can occur in certain situations. My mentor, Mr. Dale Force, has proposed an innovative solution to this problem called direct digital modulation . The testing and implementation of this solution is the focus of my summer internship. The direct digital modulation of a TWT removes the need for a separate amplitude modulation device. Instead, different levels of gain are achieved by varying the electron beam current. The lower the current, the less kinetic energy is available to be transferred to the signal. To vary the current, a grid is placed in-between the electron gun and the slow wave circuit. By changing the voltage across the grid, the electron beam current can be controlled. Grid technology has mostly been used in pulse applications such as radar, where only two voltage states are necessary. For direct digital modulation, however, a continuous range of voltages is required.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Document Type
Radhamohan, Ranjan S.
(Michigan Univ. MI, United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Publication Information
Publication: Research Symposium II
Subject Category
Electronics And Electrical Engineering
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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