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Bolometer Power Meter

The standard power meter used in the Navy (Hewlett-Packard 431 C) is an automatic self-balancing instrument employing dual-bridge circuits. It is designed to operate with temperature-compensated thermistor mounts that enable you to measure power in a 50-ohm coaxial system from 10 MHz to 18 GHz and in a waveguide system from 2.6 GHz to 40 GHz. This power meter can be operated from either an ac or a dc primary power source. The ac source can be either 115 or 230 volts at 50 to 400 hertz. The dc source is a 24-volt rechargeable battery. A seven-position range switch allows full-scale power measurements of 10 microwatts to 10 milliwatts or of -20 dBm to +10 dBm. These ranges can be further extended with the aid of attenuators. The thermistor mount (as shown in fig. 3-17) contains two thermistors: one in the detection bridge, which absorbs the microwave power to be measured, and the other in the compensation and metering bridge, which supplies temperature compensation and converts the measured rf power to a meter indication. Each bridge includes its respective thermistor element as a bridge arm.

Figure 3-17. - Power meter.

Basically, the power meter circuit consists of two bridges; each bridge includes one of the thermistor elements as a bridge arm. The bridges are made self-balancing through the use of feedback loops. Positive or regenerative feedback is used in feedback loop 1; degenerative (negative) feedback is used in feedback loop 2. Both bridges are excited by a common 10-kHz source. The 10-kHz amplifier-oscillator supplies 10-kHz power to bias the thermistor in feedback loop 1 to produce the resistance required to balance the rf bridge. An equal amount of 10-kHz power is supplied by the same oscillator to the second thermistor in feedback loop 2 through two series-connected transformers. Feedback loop 2 balances the meter bridge. When rf is applied to the thermistor in the detection bridge (but not to the compensation and metering bridge), an amount of 10-kHz power is present, equal to the rf power being removed from the detection bridge by the self-balancing action of the bridge. Since the rf power replaced the 10-kHz power, the detection bridge is in balance; however, the metering bridge must be balanced by its separate feedback loop. Sufficient dc power to equal the 10-kHz power lost by the metering bridge is automatically replaced, balancing this loop. Hence the dc power applied to the metering bridge thermistor is equal to the microwave power applied to the detection bridge. The meter circuit senses the magnitude of the feedback current. The resultant meter current passes through a differential amplifier to the indicating meter. The two thermistors are matched with respect to their temperature characteristics; therefore, there is only a very small amount of drift of the zero point with ambient temperature changes. When there is a change in temperature, there is a change in the electrical power needed by the thermistors to maintain constant operating resistances. This change is automatically performed by feedback loop 1, which changes the amount of 10-kHz power for both thermistors by the proper amount. The dc power in feedback loop 2 is not changed; and since it is this dc power that is metered, the temperature change has not affected the meter indication.


The calorimeters are the most accurate of all instruments for measuring high power. Calorimeters depend on the complete conversion of the input electromagnetic energy into heat. Direct heating requires the measurement of the heating effect on the medium, or load, terminating the line. Indirect heating requires the measurement of the heating effect on a medium or body other than the original power-absorbing material. Power measurement with true calorimeter methods is based solely on temperature, mass, and time. Substitution methods use a known, low-frequency power to produce the same physical effect as an unknown rf power being measured. Calorimeters are classified as STATIC (nonflow) types and CIRCULATING (flow) types.

Q.15 Power measurements performed with calorimeters are based on what three variables? answer.gif (214 bytes)

Static Calorimeters

The static calorimeter uses a thermally shielded body. Since an isolated body loses little heat to a surrounding medium, the temperature increase of the body is in direct proportion to the time of applied power. The product of the rate of temperature rise in the calorimetric body and its heat capacity equals applied power. Figure 3-18 illustrates a static-type calorimeter.

Figure 3-18. - Static calorimeter using low-frequency power substitution.

The most common type of static calorimeter is the ADIABATIC calorimeter. In the adiabatic meter, power is applied directly to a thermally isolated body; and the rate of temperature rise is determined from a temperature change measurement during a sufficiently long, known time interval. Figure 3-19 illustrates an adiabatic calorimeter using water as the body contained in a covered Dewar flask. A tapered-wall, open-ended waveguide contains a sealed, inclined glass partition to create a wedge-shaped water load of low-reflection coefficient. Thorough mixing of the water is accomplished with a stirrer, and a sensitive thermometer measures the temperature rise. A heating coil is wound around the waveguide inside the calorimeter and is used for calibrating purposes when low-frequency power is applied. This type of meter can be used for accurate measurement of several hundred watts of average power and can withstand 50 kilowatts of peak power.

Figure 3-19. - Adiabatic calorimeter.

The NONADIABATIC calorimeter uses an rf termination with a resistive film strip or LOSSY dielectric materials (solids or liquids that are designed to efficiently dissipate the applied power) as a load. Temperature indication can be accomplished with thermocouples, thermopiles, thermistors, thermometers, bimetallic strips, and manometers. Calibration is against a power standard or known low-frequency power.

Based on the above principle, a coaxial calorimeter of good sensitivity with a short, 50-ohm resistive film on a lava (dielectric) center conductor, enclosed within a tapered, thin-walled outer conductor, is used for frequencies between 0 and 1.2 GHz. The rf termination is electrically connected to, but thermally isolated from, a massive mounting plate by a short section of silvered-lava coaxial line with a high thermal resistance. The steady-state temperature rise of the outer casing of the load with respect to the mounting plate is measured by a differential platinum-resistance thermometer in a Wheatstone bridge. Low-frequency power applied to the termination provides a method of calibration. Power in the range of 0 to 2.5 watts may be measured. A 70-second time constant and steady-state temperatures are attained in about 6 minutes. The small physical size of termination (to keep convective and radiative heat losses low) provides high sensitivity. Calibration with lower frequency power is extremely accurate, because the termination is broadband and should exhibit the same power distribution from dc to 10 gigahertz.

A twin calorimeter provides a method of using two calorimetric bodies thermally shielded against ambient temperature variations and improves sensitivity. Figure 3-20 illustrates this type of calorimetric device. The power to be measured is applied to one calorimetric body; the other calorimetric body acts as a temperature reference. The steady-state temperature difference between the two calorimeters is used as a measure of rf power. Calibration is performed by applying low-frequency power. A differential-air, thermometer-type temperature difference indicator, shown in figure 3-21, is used with a twin calorimeter to measure microwave power in the 0.1-mW range. This instrument consists of two similar glass cells connected by a capillary tube containing a liquid pellet. Each glass cell contains a tapered, carbon-coated strip; and the entire assembly is mounted in a rectangular waveguide. Balancing dc power heats one strip; the other strip is heated by rf power. The liquid pellet, which indicates the differential expansion of the air within the two cells, is viewed through an aperture in the waveguide wall, preferably with a microscopy for highest sensitivity. This procedure permits a 2% accuracy at 10 mW.

Figure 3-20. - Twin calorimetric system.

Figure 3-21. - Differential-air, thermometer-type calorimeter.

Flow Calorimeters

Flow calorimeters are classified by the type of circulating method used (open or closed), the type of heating used (direct or indirect), and the type of measurement performed (true calorimetric or substitution). Water or other calorimetric fluid is used only once in an open system. An overflow system is used to maintain a constant rate of flow. Closed systems recirculate the fluid continuously by means of a pump, and a cooling system restores the fluid to ambient temperatures prior to its return to the calorimeter. Closed systems are more elaborate and permit the use of fluids other than water.

Flow calorimeters provide the primary standards for the measurement of high power levels; and, in conjunction with calibrated directional couplers, attenuators, power dividers, or other similar devices serve to standardize medium- and low-power measuring instruments. The measurement time depends on the required time for the entering fluid to reach the outlet, where the rise in temperature is measured. The circulating fluid may serve in a dual capacity as the dissipative medium and coolant, using the direct heating method, or solely as a coolant, using the indirect heating method. Because of its excellent thermal properties and high dielectric losses at 1 GHz or higher, water is normally used in both heating methods. Water is rarely used as the fluid at frequencies lower than 100 MHz, because of insufficient dielectric losses. The indirect heating method offers a wider frequency and power-range coverage and can be used in substitution-type measurements.

True calorimetric measurements contain appreciable error, because of nonuniformity of flow rate, air bubbles, flow-rate measurement inaccuracies, and temperature rise. Flow regulators, bubble traps, and good thermal insulation are required to eliminate the majority of these errors. Substitution methods do not involve direct heat dissipation measurement of moving fluid. Greater accuracy is obtained because known low-frequency power is substituted for the unknown rf power, with all other measurement parameters remaining constant. The accuracy depends on the exactness of the low-frequency power determination and the degree to which factors remain fixed during the substitution of one type of power with another.

Figure 3-22 illustrates a flow calorimeter using low-frequency power substitution. Two different measurement techniques are possible with this type of meter: the calibration technique and the balance technique. The CALIBRATION TECHNIQUE uses an adjustable known power to exactly reproduce the same temperature indication originally obtained by the unknown rf power measurement. The BALANCE TECHNIQUE uses an initial low-frequency power (P1) to provide a steady-state temperature rise in the calorimetric fluid. When unknown rf power is applied, the original power (P1) is reduced to a new power (P2) to maintain the same temperature indication. Therefore, the actual power equals P1 minus P2. Figure 3-23 illustrates a widely used method of power measurement using a balanced-flow calorimeter. Temperature-sensitive resistors are bridge-connected as the thermometric elements and are balanced at ambient temperature prior to the application of power. Low-frequency balancing power and the unknown rf power are applied to maintain the bridge at null. This occurs when the temperature rise caused by the unknown rf power equals the temperature rise caused by the known low-frequency power.

Figure 3-22. - Flow calorimetric system using substitution at low-frequency power.

Figure 3-23. - Balanced-flow calorimeter.

Q.16 What is the result of applying power to a calorimeter?answer.gif (214 bytes)

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