RF Communications for Unmanned Aircraft Systems

NuWaves’ Guide to Selecting the Right RF Power Amplifier

By Caroline Rees / 28 Jun 2016

In this article, NuWaves Engineering, a leading supplier of Radio Frequency (RF) and Microwave equipment, outlines the various factors that need to be considered when selecting the correct RF Power Amplifier (PA) for a specific application.

View NuWaves’ profile page for RF Power Amplifiers suited to unmanned applications > 

The choice of RF Power Amplifier will depend on the end-user’s application. The operating frequency range, output power, linearity, form-factor, and DC power consumption requirements help define the PA that is right for the application. For example, in unmanned aircraft system (UAS) applications, form-factor and DC power consumption are critical – the smaller, lighter, and more efficient the PA, the greater the endurance of the UAS. Whereas for manned aircraft, land vehicles, or surface vessels, the performance characteristics of the PA are the deciding factors.

NuPower Xtender Bidirectional L- & S-Band Amplifier

The NuPower Xtender™ Bidirectional L- & S-Band Amplifier module is a small, broadband,
high-performance RF amplifier covering the L- and S-band frequencies of 1.0 to 2.5 GHz.

Before delving into the RF performance characteristics of the available PAs, one must determine if the PA should be bidirectional or unidirectional. If the radio used in the application transmits and receives on the same frequency, or uses a single RF output port for both transmit and receive, a bidirectional amplifier (BDA) is required. For radios that only transmit, or transmit and receive on different frequencies and have separate RF output/input ports for transmit and receive, a unidirectional PA will meet the system requirements. It should be noted that a BDA can be used in all of these scenarios; however, BDAs demand a higher cost and are typically larger in size and weight compared to a unidirectional PA.

The next PA features that will determine the suitability of the PA for the application are the linearity and efficiency. For radios that use constant-envelope waveforms – such as continuous-wave (CW), phase-shift keying (PSK), or frequency-shift keying (FSK) types – high linearity is not necessary. A non-linear or “saturated” PA has the advantage of being highly efficient, meaning more DC power is converted to RF energy instead of being wasted as heat – think of this as the incandescent light bulb vs. LED light: the same amount of light is produced, but the LED light consumes much less energy. Non-linear PAs also tend to be smaller in size than linear PAs, in large part due to the high-efficiency of the design. Further, by operating the PA in saturation, higher output powers are possible in the same package size as a linear PA.

NuWaves 13G05A Power Amplifier

The NuPower™ 13G05A L-Band Power Amplifier is a small, ultra-high-efficiency solid-state power amplifier module for CW operation that delivers, on average, 50 watts of RF power from 800 MHz to 2 GHz.

For radios using high peak-to-average power ratio (PAPR) waveforms – such as orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM), or quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) types – high-linearity PAs are necessary for best performance. To achieve high-linearity, the output power of the PA is “backed-off,” such that the PA is operating in its linear region, not the saturated region as is the case with a non-linear PA. The downside to this is lower efficiency, as the PA consumes essentially the same amount of current as the non-linear PA, but the output power is reduced. The benefit however is a cleanly amplified signal that extends the range of the radio without sacrificing signal quality – leading to a lower bit-error-rate (BER) and higher data rates over greater distances.

NuWaves Engineering has developed a wide variety of off-the-shelf RF amplifiers with rich features to support mission-critical CONOPS in telemetry, ISR, and tactical communication systems applications. Frequency ranges are available from UHF through S-band, with output power levels ranging from 5 to 50 W.

Contact NuWaves today to extend the range of your communications systems: www.nuwaves.com

Posted by Caroline Rees Caroline co-founded Unmanned Systems Technology and has been at the forefront of the business ever since. With a Masters Degree in marketing Caroline has her finger on the pulse of all things unmanned and is committed to showcasing the very latest in unmanned technical innovation. Connect & Contact