In this chapter you will study the general characteristics of microwave antennas that are widely used in radar and communications applications. The basic principles of operation of microwave antennas are similar to those of antennas used at lower frequencies. You might want to review the principles presented in NEETS, Module 10, Introduction to Wave Propagation, Transmission Lines, and Antennas, at this time. Pay particular attention to basic antenna principles in chapter 4 for a review of microwave antennas.
Antennas are devices used to radiate electromagnetic energy into space. The characteristics of transmitting and receiving antennas are similar, so a good transmitting antenna is often a good receiving antenna. A single antenna performs both functions in many modern applications.
Since the operating principles of low-frequency and microwave antennas are essentially the same, the electrical characteristics are also very similar. You will need a fundamental knowledge of radar and communications antenna electrical theory in your shipboard antenna maintenance work. Antenna theory is primarily a design consideration of antenna size and shape requirements that depend on the frequency used. A brief description of antenna electrical characteristics is sufficient for the needs of most students of electronics.
The effectiveness of an antenna depends upon its ability to couple or radiate energy into the air. An efficient antenna is one which wastes very little energy during the radiation process. The efficiency of an antenna is usually referred to as the POWER GAIN or POWER RATIO as compared to a standard reference antenna. The power gain of an antenna is a ratio of the radiated power to that of the reference antenna, which is usually a basic dipole. Both antennas must be fed rf energy in the same manner and must be in the same position when the energy is radiated. The power gain of a single dipole without a reflector is unity (one). An array of several dipoles in the same position as the single dipole, and fed with the same line, has a power gain of more than one.
The effectiveness of an entire transmitting/ receiving system depends largely on impedance matching between the elements of the system. Impedance matching is particularly critical at the antenna connection. If a good impedance match is maintained between the system and the antenna throughout the operating frequency band, power transfer to and from the antenna is always maximum. The transmission line or waveguide used to transport energy to and from the antenna should have a characteristic impedance equal to that of the antenna. A proper impedance match allows all available power to be absorbed and radiated by the antenna without reflections back down the line.
If you have a transmission line or waveguide with an impedance mismatch at the termination, standing waves are set up by the reflections. Standing waves cause losses in the form of unwanted radiations, heat losses in transmission lines, and arcing in waveguides.
The STANDING-WAVE RATIO, abbreviated swr, is a way to measure the degree of mismatch between the transmission line and its load. The swr can be expressed as a ratio of the maximum and minimum values of the current or voltage in the standing waves that are set up on the lines as follows:
A transmission line or waveguide approaches a perfectly matched condition when the swr approaches a value of 1. A ratio that is a little higher than 1 is usually acceptable in practical applications.
Measurement of swr is the only practical method of detecting an impedance mismatch between a transmitting/receiving system and its antenna. As such, the system swr is an important indication of the overall efficiency of the system during operation.
The line impedance can usually be matched to the antenna at only one frequency. However, the swr will NOT become too high if the antenna is used over a small range of frequencies and the line is matched to the center frequency.
You can divide antennas into two general classes based on directivity, omnidirectional and directional. OMNIDIRECTIONAL antennas radiate and receive energy from all directions at once (SPHERICAL WAVEFRONT). They are seldom used in modern radar systems as the primary antenna, but are commonly used in radio equipment and iff (identification friend or foe) receivers. DIRECTIONAL antennas radiate energy in LOBES (or BEAMS) that extend outward from the antenna in either one or two directions. The radiation pattern contains small minor lobes, but these lobes are weak and normally have little effect on the main radiation pattern. Directional antennas also receive energy efficiently from only one or two directions, depending upon whether it is unidirectional or bidirectional.
Directional antennas have two characteristics that are important to you in radar and communications systems. One is DIRECTIVITY and the other is POWER GAIN. The directivity of an antenna refers to the NARROWNESS of the radiated beam. If the beam is NARROW in either the horizontal or vertical plane, the antenna has a high degree of directivity in that plane. An antenna may be designed for high directivity in one plane only or in both planes, depending on the application. The power gain of an antenna increases as the degree of directivity increases because the power is concentrated into a narrow beam and less power is required to cover the same distance.
Since microwave antennas are predominantly unidirectional, the examples you will study in this chapter are all of the unidirectional type.
You read in this chapter that an antenna is able to both transmit and receive electromagnetic energy. This is known as RECIPROCITY. Antenna reciprocity is possible because antenna characteristics are essentially the same regardless of whether an antenna is transmitting or receiving electromagnetic energy. Reciprocity allows most radar and communications systems to operate with only one antenna. An automatic switch, called a DUPLEXER, connects either the transmitter or the receiver to the antenna at the proper time. Duplexer operation will be. explained in later NEETS modules dealing with radar and communications systems. Because of the reciprocity of antennas, this chapter will discuss antennas from the viewpoint of the transmitting cycle. However, you should understand that the same principles apply on the receiving cycle.
Radio, television, radar, and the human eye have much in common because they all process the same type of electromagnetic energy. The major difference between the light processed by the human eye and the radio-frequency energy processed by radio and radar is frequency. For example, radio transmitters send out signals in all directions. These signals can be detected by receivers tuned to the same frequency. Radar works somewhat differently because it uses reflected energy (echo) instead of directly transmitted energy. The echo, as it relates to sound, is a familiar concept to most of us. An experienced person can estimate the distance and general direction of an object causing a sound echo. Radar uses microwave electromagnetic energy in much the same way.
Radar transmits microwave energy that reflects off an object and returns to the radar. The returned portion of the energy is called an ECHO, as it is in sound terminology. It is used to determine the direction and distance of the object causing the reflection. Determination of direction and distance to an object is the primary function of most radar systems.
Telescopes and radars, in terms of locating objects in space, have many common problems. Both have a limited field of view and both require a geographic reference system to describe the position of an object (target). The position of an object viewed with a telescope is usually described by relating it to a familiar object with a known position. Radar uses a standard system of reference coordinates to describe the position of an object in relation to the position of the radar. Normally ANGULAR measurements are made from true north in an imaginary flat plane called the HORIZONTAL PLANE. All angles in the UP direction are measured in a second imaginary plane perpendicular to the horizontal plane called the VERTICAL PLANE. The center of the coordinate system is the radar location. As shown in figure 3-1, the target position with respect to the radar is defined as 60 degrees true, 10 degrees up, and 10 miles distant. The line directly from the radar to the target is called the LINE OF SIGHT. The distance from point 1 to point 2, measured along the line of sight, is called TARGET RANGE. The angle between the horizontal plane and the line of sight is known as the ELEVATION ANGLE. The angle measured in a clockwise direction in the horizontal plane between true north and the line of sight is known as BEARING (sometimes referred to as AZIMUTH). These three coordinates of range, bearing, and elevation determine the location of the target with respect to the radar.
Figure 3-1. - Radar target position.
Bearing and elevation angles are determined by measuring the angular position of the radar antenna (the transmitted beam) when it is pointing directly at the target. Range is more difficult to determine because it cannot be directly measured. The radar system is designed to measure range as a function of time. Since the speed of electromagnetic energy is the same as the speed of light, range is determined by measuring the time required for a pulse of energy to reach the target and return to the radar. Because the speed of the pulse is known, the two-way distance can be determined by multiplying the time by the speed of travel. The total must be divided by two to obtain the one-way range because the time value used initially is the time required for the pulse to travel to the target and return.
The discussion of microwave antennas in this chapter requires only the most basic understanding of radar concepts! Radar fundamentals will be discussed in more detail in a later NEETS module.
Q.1 Microwave antennas and low-frequency antennas are similar in what ways?