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Small but mighty: How attenuators benefit defense and space industries

23 August 2022

Current space and defense industries are putting pressure on electronic manufacturers to deliver high performance with smaller form factor. For applications in these industries, from radios to drones and satellites, miniaturizing components such as RF chip attenuators with broad frequency ranges is becoming critical for developing technology and meeting the challenging demands of defense and space applications.

Today’s space and defense industries are putting pressure on electronic manufacturers to deliver high performance in an increasingly small form factor. For applications in these industries, from radios to drones and satellites, miniaturization of components such as RF chip attenuators with broad frequency ranges is becoming crucial for technology development and to meet the demanding requirements of defense and space applications.

Chip attenuators are electrical components used in amplifier circuits, receivers, up/down converters, phase-matched arrays, and switching applications to attenuate the power level of the pass-through signal, without significantly degrading the integrity of that signal. They come in different frequency band sizes, shapes, and forms.

Smith Interconnect’s Global Product Manager for Board Level Devices Dave Raymonds explains. “The defence market is looking for attenuator products with higher performing broadband and a smaller footprint. Usually, an attenuator would be used for a lower frequency and when a higher frequency was required, a different attenuator would be used. With today’s technology, you can use one attenuator that will work on all customer applications instead of using three or four different types of attenuators, reducing the bill of materials and offering a more cost-effective solution.Our TSX series is cost-effective, whilst still delivering a broader frequency range DC to 50 GHz and an excellent power rating (one to three watts, depending on the value that the customer chooses), all in a small 0604 package size that is surface mountable.” 

Smiths Interconnect’s Application Engineer Tim Meehan explains, “The TSX series offers excellent flatness and accuracy, with low VSWR (below 1.25). We offer this series with attenuation values ranging from 1 to 10dB in 1dB increments, as well as 15 and 20dB. When we talk about flatness, a 1dB will be a 1dB attenuator from DC all the way up to the 50GHz. Whereas with traditional constructions and different types of materials, those attenuators that start off at 1dB – when you get up 12GHz or 15GHz – are going to change to a 2dB. It’s not flat.”

During the design process, Smiths Interconnect utilizes industry-leading simulation tools. The company uses a total thin-film process which allows to miniaturize the design. Other attenuator products are up to four or five times the size of a TSX attenuator, but still do not deliver the power of this package. According to Meehan: “Our defense and space customers are looking for proven technology. The alumina thin film substrate processing has been around for over 40 years and is known to be capable of working in harsh environments. The use of drones is really taking off in the defense market, and the TSX series is ideal due to its compact size" 

Raymond adds. “We also see a potential in military radios. When we talk about radios, we talk about manpack radios that are used in the field, and about any type of communication for defense applications, of which the industry is looking to reduce size, weight and cost of ownership. Another application where we are now getting requests is LEO satellites, which are small satellites that are very inexpensive to manufacture and where the form factor plays a crucial role.”

TSX Series

The TSX Fixed Chip Attenuator Series is designed to offer excellent broadband performance up to 50GHz, while delivering increased power handling in a small 0604 surface mount package. It allows wider coverage than traditional components while providing optimized return loss for multiple frequency ranges. This allows the customer to use a single chip in multiple applications, reducing the Bill of Material (BOM) item count and consequently, the cost of ownership.
 

Smiths Interconnect is a leading provider of chip attenuators offering the widest selection of products from DC to Q-band, backed by proven performance and significant heritage. Chip components are offered on Alumina, Aluminum Nitride, Beryllium Oxide and CVD Diamond for a wide range of applications. Smiths Interconnect offers a broad portfolio of products and is a high-volume manufacturer, making it the ideal partner for connectivity needs. Building on more than 40 years of space heritage, Smiths products offer high reliability, from its standard products through to its high-end offerings.

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