Future NASA robotic and manned space exploration missions require high-efficiency power amplifiers, operating at Ka-band, for high data rate, long range space communications. Ka-band is the frequency of choice since it 1) provides more available bandwidth for higher data rates and 2) offers a theoretical benefit of 12 dB in EIRP compared with X-band (8.41 GHz) for the same antenna aperture size. Current technology can provide efficiency levels typically in the 20-25% range, and with packaging, combining networks and power conditioning, the efficiency rarely exceeds 15%. Employing GaN device technology together with switching mode (Class-F) device operation, our approach shows the potential to achieve PAE levels of 60%. Since the transmitter SSPA is usually the largest consumer of spacecraft DC power, our high-efficiency approach potentially represents a high-value proposition for NASA. In addition to this telecommunications application, NASA employs active Ka-band sensors (radars) for planetary landings and for a wide variety of Earth science missions, including Ka-band radar for cloud measurements, weather and climate variability studies. Since these sensors are airborne or satellite based, they would also benefit from this high-efficiency SSPA.
Applications for high-efficiency Ka-band amplifiers abound in the commercial segment as well as DoD. These include SATCOM applications for the Army in the 29.5 to 31 GHz band to radar applications for all military services in the radar bands (33 to 38 GHz). For radar, high efficiency is particularly important for airborne applications, such as UAVs and fire control radars, where the prime power is limited. In the commercial segment, a massive market exists for high-efficiency SSPA to replace tubes in SatCom terminals. Additional markets include airborne terminals for commercial airlines using SatCom (27 to 31 GHz), emerging communications applications in the 38-39 GHz range, weather and environmental monitoring radars operating in the 34 to 36 GHz band, aircraft landing systems to enhance or replace Synthetic Vision Systems (SVS) with EVFS at 35 GHz, Security and Surveillance radars for commercial, industrial and municipal applications and helicopter collision avoidance radars for brown-out and obstacle avoidance. Further, this technology is scalable. By using power combining technology, we can provide high-efficiency amplifiers with output power levels well beyond the current goals of this program. For example, with the current 5 W chip and a 16-way combiner, power levels approaching 80 W are readily attainable.