Although the performance of the MMIC chip depends on these high-performance devices, the real innovations here are a unique series bias scheme, which results in a high-voltage chip supply, and careful design of the on-chip planar output stage combiner. This design concept has ramifications beyond the chip itself because it opens up the possibility of operation directly from a satellite power bus (usually 28 V) without a dc-dc converter. This will dramatically increase the overall system efficiency.
Conventional microwave power amplifier designs utilize many devices all connected in parallel from the bias supply. This results in a low-bias voltage, typically 5 V, and a high-bias current. With this configuration, substantial I²R losses (current squared times resistance) may arise in the system bias-distribution network. By placing the devices in a series bias configuration, the total current is reduced, leading to reduced distribution losses. Careful design of the on-chip planar output stage power combiner is also important in minimizing losses. Using these concepts, a two-stage amplifier was designed for operation at 33 GHz and fabricated in a standard MMIC foundry process with 0.20-m PHEMT devices. Using a 20-V bias supply, the amplifier achieved efficiencies of over 40 percent with an output power of 0.66 W and a 16-dB gain over a 2-GHz bandwidth centered at 33 GHz. With a 28-V bias, a power level of 1.1 W was achieved with a 12-dB gain and a 36-percent efficiency (ref. 1). This represents the best reported combination of power and efficiency at this frequency.
In addition to delivering excellent power and gain, this Ka-band MMIC power amplifier has an efficiency that is 10 percent greater than existing designs. The unique design offers an excellent match for spacecraft applications since the amplifier supply voltage is closely matched to the typical value of spacecraft bus voltage. These amplifiers may be used alone in applications of 1 W or less, or several may be combined or used in an array to produce moderate power, Ka-band transmitters with minimal power combining and less thermal stress owing to the combination of excellent efficiency and power output. The higher voltage operation of this design may also save mass and power because the dc-dc power converter is replaced with a simpler voltage regulator.
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