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by Christopher Stathis

A senior thesis submitted to the faculty of Ithaca College in partial fulllment of the requirements for the degree of

Bachelor of Science

Department of Physics Ithaca College May 2011

c 2011 Christopher Stathis Copyright All Rights Reserved



of a senior thesis submitted by Christopher Stathis

This thesis has been reviewed by the senior thesis committee and the department chair and has been found to be satisfactory.


Dr. Bruce Thompson, Advisor


Dr. Matthew Price, Advisor


Dr. Matthew C. Sullivan, Senior Thesis Instructor


Dr. Beth Ellen Clark Joseph, Chair



Christopher Stathis Department of Physics Bachelor of Science

Radio telescopes provide a practical and economical alternative to optical observatories for astrophysics research and education at primarily undergraduate physics and astronomy institutions. We have developed an inexpensive radio telescope capable of observing at Ku Band and L Band frequencies. The telescope consists a three-stage superheterodyne receiver on custom circuit boards mounted on a 3 meter parabolic antenna. Software for data collection and hardware interfacing has been developed in MATLAB. We expect the telescope to be capable of drift continuum observations of the Sun and Milky Way at 3cm wavelengths. It can also be easily adapted to measure spectral emission of neutral hydrogen and OH masers at 1.5 GHz frequencies. I present our design methods for the radio frequency receiver and printed circuit boards as well as a discussion of viable celestial sources of radio emission.


The completion of this project would not have been possible without generous support from the faculty and students in the Ithaca College community, especially my advisors Dr. Matthew Price and Dr. Bruce Thompson, whose wonderful encouragement and innite patience made the monumental task of preparing a research thesis manageable and rewarding. Id also like to thank Dr. Dan Briotta for his cooperation as the gatekeeper of Ford Observatory, Dr. Luke Keller for sharing his time and his connections at Cornell, and my Senior Thesis II instructor Dr. Matthew C. Sullivan for his unwaveringly high standards. A number of nancial contributions also helped to make this radio telescope a reality. I extend my gratitude to Kathy Schauer for her donation of the satellite dish that has become our antenna. Special thanks also go to Orbital Research, specically their CEO Mike Stevens, for his donation of a bias tee that is being used to supply power to our receiver. I also acknowledge the DANA program for a stipend which enabled me to work on the telescope full time over the Summer of 2009. Finally, thanks to Jennifer Mellott for her help and patience in the laboratory, Nate Porter 11 and Tori Roberts 12 for helping to retrieve the satellite dish, Jon White 11 for helping with illustrations, and Laura Spitler of Cornell University for sharing her knowledge and her access to radio electronics equipment.

Table of Contents List of Figures 1 Introduction 1.1 A Brief History of Radio Astronomy . . . . . 1.1.1 Jansky Merry-Go-Round . . . . . . . . 1.1.2 Reber Sky Survey . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2 Important Discoveries By Radio Astronomers 1.2.1 Non-Thermal Radiation . . . . . . . . 1.2.2 Cosmic Microwave Background . . . . 1.2.3 Galactic Supermassive Black Hole . . . 1.3 Modern Uses For Radio Telescopes . . . . . . 2 Theory 2.1 The Electromagnetic Spectrum . . . . 2.2 Quantifying Radio Observations . . . . 2.2.1 Flux Density of a Radio Source 2.2.2 Blackbody Temperature . . . . 2.3 Radiation Mechanisms . . . . . . . . . 2.3.1 Bremsstrahlung . . . . . . . . . 2.3.2 Synchrotron Radiation . . . . . 2.4 Cosmic Sources of Radio . . . . . . . . 2.4.1 The Sun . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.4.2 Neutral Hydrogen . . . . . . . . 2.4.3 The Milky Way . . . . . . . . . 2.5 Radiometer Design . . . . . . . . . . . 2.5.1 Superheterodyne Model . . . . 2.5.2 Frequency Mixing . . . . . . . . 2.5.3 Square Law Detection . . . . . 2.6 Radiometer Calibration . . . . . . . . . vii ix 1 2 2 3 4 4 6 7 7 9 9 11 11 13 15 15 20 23 23 25 26 27 27 28 29 30

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viii 3 Design and Implementation 3.1 Antenna . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1.1 Resolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.1.2 Gain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 Superheterodyne Receiver . . . . . . . . . 3.2.1 Ku Band Low Noise Block . . . . . 3.2.2 L Band Frequency Mixer and Local 3.2.3 Filter-Amplier Stages . . . . . . . 3.2.4 Detector Circuit . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2.5 Printed Circuit Board Design . . .

Contents 35 35 36 36 36 37 42 43 46 48 53 53 53 57 57 58 61 62

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4 Results and Testing 4.1 Data Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.2 Receiver Testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Conclusions and Future Work 5.1 First Expected Observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.2 Longterm Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Appendix A Matlab Script Bibliography

List of Figures
1.1 1.2 1.3 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 3.10 4.1 4.2 Data taken by Janskys Merry-Go-Round. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Photograph of the Reber parabolic antenna. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Plot of the Cosmic Microwave Background. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Plot of the solid angle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The blackbody energy distribution. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Diagram of a bremsstrahlung interaction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Diagram of synchrotron radiation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Plot of synchrotron observations demonstrating the spectral index. . Radio spectrum of the Sun. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Block diagram of a superheterodyne receiver. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Block diagram of the complete radio telescope. . Schematic of the RF receiver circuit. . . . . . . Schematic of the IF detector circuit. . . . . . . . Diagram of the LNB multiplexer. . . . . . . . . Bode plot of the image rejection mixer. . . . . . The Sallen-Key lter topology. . . . . . . . . . . Plot of experimental gain for 4-pole Butterworth Heating prole for reow soldering. . . . . . . . PCB schematic of the RF receiver board. . . . . PCB schematic of the detector circuit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . lter. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 5 7 10 12 14 16 21 24 32 33 38 39 40 42 45 46 47 49 50 51 55 56

Results of testing the receiver with a microwave source. . . . . . . . . Measurement of the intrinsic noise of receiver PCBs. . . . . . . . . . .


Chapter 1 Introduction
Before the 20th century, astronomers possessed a limited toolset with which to observe the sky. The whole of our knowledge concerning objects in space was derived from the visible light we observed. Methods for detecting infrared light were eventually developed, but large gaps in our understanding still remained. Since Maxwells work in the 1860s, scientists knew that electromagnetic radiation could occur at any wavelength, yet the eorts of physicists such as Nikola Tesla to observe unconventional frequencies of radiation coming from space were consistently met with failure [1]. The rst person to successfully observe radio frequency light from space, Karl Jansky, did so by accident. His discoveries led to a revolution in astrophysics. Through World War II and into the 1960s, research in radio astronomy exploded, and the results challenged fundamental theories about the nature of the universe. The newly discovered abundance of radio emission in the universe did not agree with scientists understanding of radiation. Radio telescopes also provided the means to detect new and exotic classes of celestial bodies. Radio astronomy has been responsible for many important discoveries since its inception, such as the measurement of the cosmic microwave background and its anisotropy. Today, astrophysicists use radio telescopes 1

Chapter 1. Introduction

for a variety of applications, including monitoring the sun for sunspots, studying the atmosphere and ionosphere of planets in the solar system, and seeking out extraterrestrial intelligence.


A Brief History of Radio Astronomy

Jansky Merry-Go-Round

In 1931, Bell Laboratories commissioned a project to study the causes of poor signal quality in shortwave radio communications, specically those due to uctuating ionospheric and atmospheric conditions. A young American physicist named Karl Guthe Jansky was hired to carry out the research. To monitor the air for these noise signals, Jansky constructed a directional antenna spanning 30 meters in diameter. He steered the device by rotating it along a circular track, which earned it the nickname of Janskys Merry-Go-Round. He detected and categorized three types of noise signals in his rst months of observations - lightning strikes, automobile ignition sparks, and a slowly oscillating hiss. A sample of Janskys data, recorded by pen and paper, is depicted in Fig 1.1. By mid 1932, this slow oscillation was the only noise that Jansky could not explain, and it became the focus of his research. By holding the antenna in one place for several weeks at a time, Jansky determined that the source drifted across the sky with a steady period of 24 hours. Based on this, he hypothesized that the Sun was the source of the signal. To conrm this, he sought to observe it during the total solar eclipse of August 31, 1932 [2]. Evidence that the signal changed when the Sun was blocked would conrm this hypothesis. Janskys data from this solar eclipse revealed no measurable eects. This forced Jansky to seek out other possible explanations. The astrophysicists who he consulted about this problem realized that the precise period of oscillation was 23 hours and 56 minutes, the length of a sidereal

1.1. A Brief History of Radio Astronomy

Figure 1.1 A plot produced by Janskys directional antenna. Jansky attributed the pulses seen in this image to electrical storms and automobile ignition sparks, but could not immediately explain the slow background oscillation. This was later determined to be emitted by the center of the Milky Way galaxy. (Source: [3]) day. This showed that the noise source must lie somewhere in space. In his pursuit of atmospheric noise observations, Jansky had serendipitously produced the rst evidence that measurable radio frequency signals are emitted by celestial bodies [3]. He continued to monitor this signal, and in 1933 concluded that it was strongest when his antenna was pointed at the constellation Sagittarius. Optical telescope images of the same region of the sky conrmed that the source of the radiation was at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy [2]. This result was well received by astronomers, but did little to answer the question that Jansky was tasked by Bell to answer. As a result, his project was discontinued in 1934. While he made eorts to pursue further research on his own time, illness and nancial problems prevented him from making signicant progress [4].


Reber Sky Survey

It was not until 1937 that an amateur radio astronomer, Grote Reber, made eorts to continue Janskys work. In the midst of the Great Depression, Reber applied to work at Bell Labs alongside Jansky, but was turned away. In response, he constructed his

Chapter 1. Introduction

own radio antenna in his backyard - a parabolic dish 9 meters in diameter, not unlike the antennas used for modern radio telescopes today. An image of the telescope is depicted in Fig 1.2. Reber mounted his dish on a tilting stand so he could steer it along the altitudinal direction. He developed several receivers for the telescope operating at a variety of frequencies. The one to produce the most useful data operated at 160 MHz [5]. Reber used this telescope to perform a survey of the 160 MHz radio sky in 1941, earning him publications in several astrophysical journals [5]. The survey raised questions about the nature of the universe, specically drawing attention to the abundance of low frequency radiation emitted in space [6]. Reber reached celebrity status in the astrophysics community for his work, leading major observatories to adopt their own radio astronomy research programs.


Important Discoveries By Radio Astronomers

Non-Thermal Radiation

The abundance of low frequency radiation in space demonstrated by Rebers survey came as a surprise. Scientists at the time believed that radiation in space occurred only as blackbody radiation. They suspected that given the high temperature of stars, most radiation in space would be observed at frequencies around the visible spectrum where their blackbody radiation is most intense [3]. The Reber sky survey was the rst empirical result to suggest that this was not the case. Blackbody radiation does not account for the intensities of radio frequency radiation Reber observed [7]. Some other previously unknown mechanism was responsible. The study of these unexplained emission modes led to the observation of synchrotron radiation, thermal bremsstrahlung, atomic and molecular spectral emission, and other modern physical phenomena.

1.2. Important Discoveries By Radio Astronomers

Figure 1.2 A photograph of the parabolic radio antenna used by Grote Reber to conduct a survey of the radio sky in 1941. The telescope was 9 meters in diameter and featured an altitudinal steering mechanism. Rebers results drove scientists to pursue further radio astronomy research throughout the mid-20th century. (Source: National Science Foundation (public domain))

Chapter 1. Introduction


Cosmic Microwave Background

Most radiation at radio frequencies is non-thermal in nature. RF blackbody radiation is present in the universe but has intensity peaks at cold temperatures (less than 50 Kelvin) [7]. As a result, blackbody radiation emitted by hot objects like stars is negligibly weak at RF - their spectrum is dominated by other mechanisms. However, theoretical models predicted the temperature of the interstellar medium (ISM) to be suciently cold for blackbody peaks to occur at a low frequency. The temperature of the ISM could be determined by measuring this peak. In 1955, French astronomer Emile Le Roux performed a sky survey at a frequency of 900 MHz and discovered that the ISM emits a nearly isotropic, persistent background radiation peaking at a temperature of 3K 2K [8]. Ten years later, American astronomers Penzias and Wilson conrmed this measurement to a greater degree of precision, and earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for their eorts [9]. The signicance of the thermal radiation in empty space, referred to as the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR), is in its implications to cosmology. Its existence supports the Big Bang theory which has become the standard model for the rst moments of the universe. The model states that while the universe was suciently hot, it consisted of free electrons and nuclei which continuously absorbed and re-emitted photons. As the universe expanded, the temperature fell to a point where electrons and protons could bind to form atoms. These atoms did not absorb all photons in the way that free particles did, so this transition left behind a collection of photons which had been emitted by particles but not re-absorbed [8]. The energy observed in the CMBR is a direct observation of these photons which continue to propogate through space. An image of the CMBR is depicted in Fig 1.3.

1.3. Modern Uses For Radio Telescopes

Figure 1.3 An image of the cosmic microwave background radiation produced by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe in 2010. The cosmic microwave background provides strong evidence for the Big Bang theory. Of current interest to cosmologists is the anisotropic distribution of the radiation, which is clearly seen here. (Source: [10])


Galactic Supermassive Black Hole

The radio source at the center of the Milky Way rst detected by Jansky is known as Sagittarius A*. Radio and X-ray observations of this region suggest that the source has an angular diameter of 37 microarcseconds and is positioned near a supermassive black hole. Gravitational lensing models conrm that the radio source is not the center of the black hole itself, but the blackbody radiation produced by matter heating to extreme temperatures as it accelerates near the event horizon [11]. The discovery that our galaxy has a black hole at its center was made possible by radio astronomy.


Modern Uses For Radio Telescopes

A variety of research questions are being addressed by radio astronomers today. Cosmologists are interested in the ansiotropy of the cosmic microwave background due

Chapter 1. Introduction

to its implications to the general theory of relativity and the early history of the universe. For example, the observed anisotropy of the CMBR was used to determine that the Milky Way galaxy is traveling at 22 km/s with respect to the rest frame of the ISM [8]. More applied uses for radio astronomy include the observation of sunspot population at the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, as well as the study of Earths ionosphere, currently being conducted by the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center at Arecibo Observatory. Astronomers are also using radio to observe distant objects such as quasars, pulsars, and supernova remnants by interferometry at observatories like the Very Large Array, which consists of 27 independent antennas [12].

Chapter 2 Theory
2.1 The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Radio frequency radiation is a specic type of electromagnetic (EM) wave. EM waves have a frequency proportional to the total energy that they carry. This is described by the Planck-Einstein equation [7] E = h (2.1)

where E is the total energy in joules, h is Plancks constant, and is the frequency in Hertz. The full range of possible frequencies makes up the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is divided into categories as seen in Fig 2.1. The radio spectrum is divided further into several bands. The designations developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) are depicted in Table 2.1.


Chapter 2. Theory

Frequency (Hz)
0 10 1 10 2 10 3 10 4 10 5 10 6 10 7 10 8 10 9 10 16 17 18 19 20 10 11 12 13 14 15 21 22 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10

8 10 7 10 6 10 5 10 4 10 3 10 2 10 1 10 0 10 -1 10 -2 10 -3 10 -4 10 -5 10 -6 10 -7 10

-8 10 -9 10 -10 -11 -12 -13 -14 10 10 10 10 10

Wavelength (m)

Figure 2.1 Diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum, with frequency increasing from left to right. Radio and microwave frequency radiation make up the lowest frequencies, and as a result of Eq 2.1, the lowest energies.

Table 2.1 IEEE frequency band designations for the radio spectrum.

Band HF VHF UHF L S C X Ku K Ka V W mm

Frequency Range Nomenclature 3 to 30 MHz 30 to 300 MHz 300 to 1000 MHz 1 to 2 GHz 2 to 4 GHz 4 to 8 GHz 8 to 12 GHz 12 to 18 GHz 18 to 27 GHz 27 to 40 GHz 40 to 75 GHz 75 to 110 GHz 110 to 300 GHz High Frequency Very High Frequency Ultra High Frequency Long Wave Short Wave Compromise between S, X Crosshair (WWII Fire Control) Under Kurz Kurz Above Kurz mm Wavelengths

2.2. Quantifying Radio Observations



Quantifying Radio Observations

Flux Density of a Radio Source

A radiation source in the sky has some apparent size described by its solid angle . The solid angle is a two dimensional angle that resolves an area segment of a sphere. This is analogous to a one-dimensional planar angle which resolves the arc length of a segment of a circle. The solid angle in spherical coordinates is d = sin dd (2.2)

The unit of the solid angle is the steradian (sr.) Integration over all solid angles gives the surface area of the sphere of radius r, as seen in Fig 2.2. Radiating bodies can be described according to their emitted power per unit area, or ux. The basic unit of radiated energy, the monochromatic intensity I ( ), is dened as the ux per unit solid angle at a specic frequency. It has units of J m2 s1 Hz1 sr1 . Radio astronomers most commonly characterize sources in terms of their monochromatic ux density, which is the monochromatic intensity integrated over the solid angle.


I ( )d


The ux density S has units of Wm2 Hz1 , but in radio astronomy the conventional unit of ux density is the Jansky [13], dened as 1026 Wm2 Hz1 . Measuring the ux through a solid angle of the sky is the fundamental task of a radio telescope. The resolution of the telescope is described by the size of this solid angle, called the beamwidth. A high resolution corresponds to a small beamwidth. Astronomers use calibration techniques to determine the beamwidth of a telescope so that the ux density of a source can be calculated from a measurement of ux.


Chapter 2. Theory



Figure 2.2 The solid angle is a two-dimensional angle which describes the surface area of a section of a sphere. Integration over all solid angles gives the area of a sphere of radius r. The size of this solid angle is also referred to as the beamwidth of the telescope. Telescopes with a solid angle of can resolve features of celestial bodies that appear larger than in the sky.

2.2. Quantifying Radio Observations



Blackbody Temperature

Prior to the mid 20th century, astrophysicists believed that all radiated energy from celestial bodies was due to blackbody radiation. This is a specic mechanism of emission in which the monochromatic intensity is dependent on the temperature of the body being studied. The intensity emitted at a given frequency by an ideal blackbody is expressed mathematically by Plancks Law, given as [7] B (T ) = 2h 3 1 h 2 c exp( kT 1) (2.4)

This quantity is known as the monochromatic intensity because it refers to the intensity at one frequency. A plot of the energy emitted by a blackbody as a function of frequency for a variety of temperatures is shown in Fig 2.3. Since RF radiation is of low frequencies, h << kT except in the case that T is very small. For suciently large values of T, the exponential term in Eq 2.4 reduces to h h exp 1 kT kT
( )


The regime where h << kT is known as the Rayleigh-Jeans regime because Plancks Law reduces to the Rayleigh-Jeans Law [7] B (T ) = 2 2 kT c2 (2.6)

Monochromatic intensity increases linearly with temperature within this regime. When h kT , the Rayleigh-Jeans Law breaks down and Plancks Law must be used for accurate calculations. At Ku band frequencies, this breakdown occurs near a temperature of 1 K. This means that for blackbodies of a temperature above 1 K the Rayleigh-Jeans Law is sucient for predicting their radiation spectrum at Ku Band. The temperature of a blackbody is calculated by solving Eq 2.6 for T , which yields T = B (T )c2 2k 2 (2.7)


Chapter 2. Theory

Figure 2.3 Log-log plot of the energy distribution produced by blackbody radiation. Notice that the intensity goes as the square of the frequency within the Rayleigh-Jeans Limit, which breaks down at frequencies far outside the radio spectrum. The point of maximum intensity is a function of the blackbody temperature, given by Wiens Displacement Law, which increases in frequency as the temperature increases. Source: [14]

2.3. Radiation Mechanisms


This equation will not necessarily hold to great degrees of precision for real objects since it is derived only for ideal blackbodies. However, it describes the temperature an ideal blackbody would have if its monochromatic intensity is measured as B . This temperature is known as the brightness temperature and is widely used to discuss the radio emission of real sources [13].


Radiation Mechanisms

Comparing empirical observations of intensity at RF to the intensities predicted by the Rayleigh-Jeans Law reveals some discrepencies. For example, if the Sun were considered a perfect blackbody, the Rayleigh-Jeans law implies that it has a temperature of 100,000 K at a frequency of 1.4 GHz. Measurements of the Sun at visible frequencies give a temperature of approximately 6000 K [15]. This discrepency implies that blackbody radiation is not the only source of radiation emitted by the Sun. Most of these other sources of radiation were not well understood until the mid 20th century.



Radiation from stars such as the sun and insterstellar ionic clouds such as those found in the Milky Way is often a result of charged particles such as electrons experiencing acceleration due to the presence of ions. This interaction is known as thermal bremsstrahlung or free-free radiation. In the most common case it consists of electrons interacting with hydrogen ions in a plasma. A region of space occupied by a high density of hydrogen ions is called an HII region [3]. Consider a single electron interacting with a single H+ ion. The particles feel a force governed by Coulombs Law. In collisions, strong forces are generated which typically produce radiation in the X-ray frequencies. The energy of X-ray photons


Chapter 2. Theory

Figure 2.4 Diagram of a bremsstrahlung interaction. Electrons accelerating due to the presence of ions emit radiation according to Larmors formula. These interactions are characterized by the impact parameter b which describes the minimum distance between the charges throughout the interaction. is much higher than that of radio photons. For this reason we are only interested in weak interactions, i.e., an electron passing by an H+ ion. The forces on the particle during an interaction are described in terms of the distance between the particle and the ion, l, and the impact parameter, b. The impact parameter is dened as the minimum value of l throughout the interaction. When b = l, the particle feels the strongest force, as shown in Fig 2.4. The force felt by the particle can be separated into components parallel and perpendicular to its velocity = F = F 1 q2 sin 40 l2 1 q2 cos 40 l2 (2.8)


In either case the acceleration causes the particles to emit radiation according to Larmors formula [16] P = 0 q 2 v 2 6c (2.10)

2.3. Radiation Mechanisms


where P is the radiated power, q is the charge, and v is the acceleration of the particle. A complete investigation of bremsstrahlung should consider the radiation from both forces, however it is known that the parallel component produces radiation outside of the radio range, so for the purpose of this discussion we study only the perpendicular component [14]. Bremmstrahlung from one interaction is better described as an event rather than a sustained signal. A single pulse of radiation is produced by the electron, which we approximate as a gaussian distribution [14]. Fourier analysis of this distribution suggests that the maximum frequency of radiation resulting from the interaction is [14] v b (2.11)

which lies well into the infrared range in most cases. Now consider a region of space populated by a hydrogen ion plasma. The average velocity of the electrons depends on their average energy, or the temperature of the plasma. The predicted range of values for the impact parameter b depends on the density of the plasma. Assuming the region is in thermal equilibrium, the electrons and ions have equal average kinetic energy, but since the ions are many orders of magnitude more massive, we assume they remain stationary. The monochromatic intensity of radiation can be written in terms of the emission coecient, which is dened as = I r (2.12)

or the total ux per unit volume per unit solid angle at a frequency . It has units of J m3 s1 Hz1 sr1 . From this we write Ib = 4 (2.13)

where is the emission coecient and the factor of 4 is a result of integration over dr.


Chapter 2. Theory For a specic range of impact parameters bmin bmax , and electron and ion

densities given by Ne and Ni , this emission coecient is given by [14] 2 q 6 Ne Ni = 4c3 m2 e


2me kT


bmax ln bmin


Detailed derivations of this coecient can be found in advanced thermodynamics texts such as ref [17]. Ultimately we are interested in the spectral index for bremsstrahlung distributions. The spectral index is a unitless quantity that describes the frequency dependence of the total ux emitted by a source. It is the slope of the intensity plotted as a function of frequency in a log-log plot. (Unfortunately there is no accepted sign convention for the spectral index so a positive index could imply a positive or negative slope depending on the context. Throughout this report a positive spectral index is taken to imply a positive slope.) We assume that the particles which make up the source have a power law energy distribution [18] N (E )dE E dE (2.15)

where N is the number of particles per unit volume with energies between E and E + dE , and is a positive constant. To calculate the spectral index we will need the maximum and minimum values of the impact parameter that give rise to radio frequency radiation. The impulse on the passing electron due to the eld of the ion is

P =

1 qEdt F dt = 40


Again we are only interested in the perpendicular component of force, so we take the perpendicular component of the electric eld E = E cos . Recalling Eq 2.9, we may write 1 2 cos3 P = q dt 40 b2


2.3. Radiation Mechanisms By applying a change of variables dt = b/v sec2 , this becomes P = q 2 /2 2q 2 cosd = bv /2 bv



Since the momentum transfer is inversely proportional to the impact parameter, we can solve for the minimum value of b in the case where P is as large as possible. This occurs for a perfectly elastic interaction where the change in momentum is twice that of the initial momentum of the electron, or Pmax = 2me v From this we see that the minimum value of the impact parameter is [14] bmin = and recalling Eq 2.11, bmax = v 2 (2.21) q2 me v 2 (2.20) (2.19)

From these results we can calculate how much of the radiated energy will be reabsorbed by the plasma (so not transmitted to Earth), described by the absorption coecient. The absorption coecient is given by Kirchos Law [14] = B (T )


Substituting for and applying the Rayleigh-Jeans Law for B (T ), we have 1 q6 1 2 me v 3 1 ln = 2 3/2 2 Ne Ni T c 2q 2 2 (me kB )3 4 or simply 1 2 (2.24)


within the Rayleigh-Jeans regime. With this value of the absorption coecient, we see that the ux density goes precisely like the ux of a blackbody, with a spectral index


Chapter 2. Theory

of = 2. This is why astronomers call this interaction thermal bremsstrahlung. As frequency increases beyond 10 GHz, the ux density decreases slowly with frequency and has a spectral index of = 0.1 in HII regions [14].


Synchrotron Radiation

Synchrotron radiation makes up most of the radiation in space which cannot be accounted for as blackbody radiation or bremsstrahlung [13]. It is produced by electrons in strong magnetic elds moving at relativistic speed. Scientists rst observed it in the laboratory as an unwanted source of energy loss in a circular electron accelerator [3]. The trajectory of an electron in a uniform, static magnetic eld forms a helix. Particles undergoing circular motion are constantly accelerated in the direction perpendicular to the motion. This is illustrated in Fig 2.5. The angular velocity of this circular motion C is called the angular cyclotron frequency. The angle between the direction of velocity and the magnetic eld line is the pitch angle . Cyclotron frequency is a function of the eld strength B , the charge q , the mass m0 . Accounting for relativistic speed, it is given as [14] C =

qB qB , C = m0 2m0


where = 1/ 1 (v/c)2 is the Lorentz factor in special relativity. The synchrotron radiation of one particle is sharply peaked at a specic frequency. For this reason our model assumes that all synchrotron radiation produced by this particle will occur at one frequency called critical frequency , which for ultrarelativistic particles is given as [14] = 2 C (2.26)

Radiation from a particle moving in this manner will be observed as a series of pulses occurring at a regular interval. This is because synchrotron radiation will only be

2.3. Radiation Mechanisms


Radio Waves

Charged particle (proton or electron) Magnetic Field

Radio Waves

Figure 2.5 An illustration of synchrotron radiation. Charged particles move in a spiral pattern when subject to a strong magnetic eld. The resulting acceleration causes them to emit radiation at the cyclotron frequency.


Chapter 2. Theory

detected when the direction of the particles velocity is in the observers line of sight. For the same reasons it is also sharply polarized. We are ultimately interested in the power radiated by a celestial body due to synchrotron radiation. Relativistic electrodynamics [16] describes the energy lost by a single relativistic particle moving in a spiral trajectory as q4B 2v2 2 P = sin2 2 3 60 c m0 (2.27)

for a specic pitch angle . This can be rewritten in terms of the magnetic energy density [16] B2 UB = 8 and in terms of the Thomson cross-section, a constant dened as
( )


T = so we are left with

q2 40 mc2


P = 2T 2 2 cUB sin2


where = v/c. To describe an ensemble of particles of synchrotron radiation we are interested in the value of their spectral index. To calculate this we will need the emission coecient. We can write d dE N (E )dE dt (2.31)

since the power emitted is the time derivative of the emitted energy. In this case the energy E is the energy of the individual relativistic electrons, given by E me c2 . Substituting these expressions and applying some clever algebra we arrive at B (+1)/2 (1)/2 From this the spectral index can be extracted P ( ) (+1)/2 (2.33) (2.32)

2.4. Cosmic Sources of Radio


The exponent on the frequency is the spectral index. The value of for RF synchrotron emission between 1 GHz and 100 GHz in our galaxy has been empirically measured as 2.4 [19]. In this frequency regime, the spectral index has a value of 0.7, as shown in Fig 2.6. This result shows that the spectrum of a synchrotron source follows a dierent distribution than the blackbody curve, which has a spectral index of 2 since in the Rayleigh-Jeans regime the energy is proportional to 2 . Furthermore, the ux from a synchrotron source is a relatively strong function of frequency, so we can expect the strongest levels of synchrotron radiation to be emitted at the lower frequencies of the power law regime - between 1 and 10 GHz.


Cosmic Sources of Radio

The strongest sources of RF radiation as observed from Earth are the Sun and the Milky Way. Both of these sources produce a complicated mixture of radiation mechanisms for which there are a variety of models. Their emission can be measured even with the most insensitive radiometers, so they are suitable targets for the rst measurements taken with a new telescope. In addition to the Sun and Milky Way, the spectral line of neutral hydrogen molecules is easily accessible. This is due to the abundance of hydrogen throughout the universe.


The Sun

Solar RF radiation is classied into four components: quiet Sun emission due to plasma bremsstrahlung, a slowly-varying component of synchrotron radiation and bremsstrahlung due to the magnetic elds trapped by sunspots, synchrotron radiation from electrons in short-lived noise storms, and wideband synchrotron emission from short radio bursts associated with solar ares [15]. The range and relative inten-


Chapter 2. Theory

Figure 2.6 Summary of observational synchrotron radiation data demonstrating the negative spectral index throughout most of the radio spectrum. This shows that synchrotron radiation is fundamentally dierent than blackbody radiation and follows a dierent distribution of energy. Source: [20]

2.4. Cosmic Sources of Radio


sities of these signals are summarized in Figure 2.7. At Ku Band, the slowly-varying component which depends on sunspot population is accessible. Monitoring this component is a technique used by NASA to determine the population of sunspots. They take ux measurements between 3 and 14 GHz daily [15]. Sunspot activity is currently of particular interest because recently the sunspot count has been lower than models predicted [21]. Monitoring changes in sunspot activity is an ideal task for a small radio telescope operating in the GHz bands. It is also well-suited for the detection of radio bursts, which are easy to identify because their intensity is many orders of magnitude higher than that of the quiet Sun. Like many other celestial bodies, the Sun appears larger at lower radio frequencies than it does in the visible spectrum. This means that even for a low-resolution radio telescope, the beamwidth is smaller than the size of the source, and it is possible to measure features rather than just continuum emission. For example, even a small radio telescope has the capability to determine if the upper hemisphere of the Sun emits stronger than the lower hemisphere.


Neutral Hydrogen

In 1944, H. C. van de Hulst theorized the existence of a 1420 MHz spectral line which was experimentally conrmed from observations of the Milky Way by Ewan and Purcell in 1951 [20]. Quantum mechanics predicts energy emission by atoms in the radio frequencies by hyperne splitting. This splitting arises from magnetic dipole interactions between the nucleus and the electron. The hyperne splitting of hydrogen atoms in the ground state produces this 1420 MHz radiation. Given a proton spin of s =
1 2

and an electronic angular momentum quantum number l =

1 2

it can be shown that the energy dierence between the hyperne energy levels in

26 hydrogen is given in atomic units by 4 m E = 3 Mp


Chapter 2. Theory


gp 2


where is the reduced mass of the electron, gp = 5.5883 is the Lande factor of the proton, and is the ne structure constant. Complete derivationis of this energy can be found in quantum mechanics texts such as ref [22]. Using this relation the frequency of the emitted energy can be calculated as 1420 MHz, which corresponds to a wavelength of 21 cm. For a hydrogen atom this transition occurs with an average frequency of 2.9 1015 Hz . This may seem a rare occurrence, however due to the abundance of hydrogen in the universe it is relatively common. The center of the Milky Way as well as HII regions and the Sun are rich in neutral hydrogen.


The Milky Way

The view of the Milky Way galaxy from Earth is obscured by high amounts of dust opaque at visible wavelengths but transparent at RF [13]. As a result, radio telescopes can probe deeper areas of the galaxy than optical telescopes. Similar to the Sun, radio emission from the Milky Way is divided into three components: thermal bremsstrahlung and spectral emission from HII plasmas, synchrotron radiation emitted by supernova remnants, and spectral emission from an abundance of neutral hydrogen (1.4 GHz) and hydroxyl (1.7 GHz) [23]. Monitoring the radio emission of the Milky Way is an eective way to measure the galactic rotation curve. A simple model to predict the rotation of the galaxy is [24]



where M is the mass of the galaxy concentrated at the center, G is the gravitational constant, and R is the distance from the central mass. From some arbitrary point on

2.5. Radiometer Design


the disc of the galaxy, we will observe the maximum angular velocity when it is in the direction of our line of sight. As a result, the observed frequency of radiation will be redshifted. This is especially useful when looking at spectral emission, since the precise frequency of radiation with no redshift is known and can be compared to the measured frequencies. When monitoring the neutral hydrogen emission of the galaxy over time, it has been shown that the frequency of highest ux density varies by 5 MHz [24]. Using these data we may determine how the galaxy rotates with respect to the Solar System.


Radiometer Design

Radio astronomers are fortunate enough to work with signals of a suciently low frequency such that they can be manipulated using electronics rather than optics. The radio telescope collects radiation not using lenses and mirrors, but with circuitry. The radio receiver is the most important part of the radio telescope and represents the most signicant design challenge. The most ecient methods for dealing with high frequency radio signals using electronics are well understood, so most telescope radiometers are similar in their functions. However, the methods for implementing these functions vary widely.


Superheterodyne Model

The top-level organization of most radio telescope receivers follows a common design format. A block diagram of a typical superheterodyne receiver can be seen in Fig 2.8. The RF signal from the antenna is amplied using a low noise amplier (LNA) which in some systems is cryogenically cooled to reduce noise. This amplied signal is converted, or modulated, to a lower intermediate frequency (IF) by mixing the


Chapter 2. Theory

incoming RF signal with an articial waveform supplied by a local oscillator. This IF signal is ltered using a narrowband band-pass lter. A square law diode rectier converts the ltered IF signal to a voltage proportional to its power. The output voltage can be sent to a waveform analyzer or converted to a digital signal using a voltage-to-frequency converter and nally processed by a computer for data collection.


Frequency Mixing

Radio frequency signals are cumbersome to process so the superheterodyne receiver employs a mixer to convert the RF signal to a lower IF. This allows modules to be designed for one specic IF despite the wide bandwidth of RF signals received by the antenna, which is desirable because signals incident on radio antennas are dicult to amplify eciently at their native frequencies [25]. Signal processing, especially using analog methods, is similarly dicult. Converting the input to an IF simplies transmission as well, since high quality cable is needed to transmit RF signals without signicant power loss, especially over long distances. Frequency downconversion solves all of these issues but not without introducing some design challenges. A frequency mixer, or multiplier, outputs a superposition of signals consisting of the sum and dierence of the two input frequencies, each with a phase shift of 90 degrees relative to the input. In a radio telescope receiver, one of these signals is the RF input signal (i.e. the raw signal measured by the telescope antenna) and the other signal is an articial waveform produced by a local oscillator. Local oscillator circuits can be constructed using crystals, voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs), or digitalanalog converters (DACs.) VCOs and DACs provide the advantage of tunability astronomers who wish to target a specic input frequency to examine, such as a spectral emission line, would require the ability to tune their local oscillator with a reasonable degree of precision. Using a DAC generally requires a microcontroller.

2.5. Radiometer Design


The behavior of a frequency multiplier is clearly illustrated by the trigonometric identity [25] 1 sin A sin B = [cos(A B ) cos(A + B )] 2 (2.36)

Only the lower, subtracted frequency component is desired - the summed component is called the image. The image is a potential source of high frequency noise for the IF section of the receiver. Isolating the RF image and the LO from the IF signal is an important aspect of receiver design. Filters usually immediately follow frequency mixers to eliminate the image signal.


Square Law Detection

A square law detector is in essence a half-wave diode rectier with a low pass lter. A simple half wave rectier consists of a diode with a resistor to ground in parallel with its input. For large signals, a capacitor placed in parallel with the output will hold the output voltage near the peak voltage of the AC input. For smaller input signals, the behavior is more complicated. The current-voltage curve of a diode is described by the Schockley Diode Equation [26] I = IS (exp VD 1) nVT (2.37)

where IS is the reverse bias saturation current, VD is the voltage across the diode, n is a unitless coecient called the quality factor, and VT = kT /q is the thermal voltage. Generally the behavior of diode detectors is separated into three regimes governed by this current-voltage curve. For high VD (nominally +20 dBm and above) the output voltage of a detector goes linearly with the input voltage, as described. At less than +20 dBm, we approach the regime where VD VT and the proportionality of the output to the input is hard to predict. Below a nominal -20 dBm, we enter


Chapter 2. Theory

the square law region. Small-signal analysis shows the behavior of the diode in this regime. Consider a diode connected to a simple RC low-pass lter. Since the I-V relationship of the diode is inherently exponential, we can expand it in a power series of vD .
3 2 ... + c3 vD iD = c1 vD + c2 vD


Suppose that the small-signal input voltage is sinusoidal so vD = A cos(t). Then applying the appropriate trigonometric identities, we have iD = c1 A cos(t) + c2 A2 (1 + cos(2t)) c3 A3 (cos(3t) + 3 cos(t)) + ... 2 4 (2.39)

which simplies to a constant proportional to A2 plus terms containing harmonics of cos(t). The low-pass lter connected to the output of the diode will lter out these sinusoidal terms, so they become negligible. In the context of small-signal analysis, vout = iD RL , so the output of the square law detector is V0 = RL Vi2 (2.40)

where is some constant. To express it in a way that is more applicable to radio receivers, V0 Pi (2.41)

where Pi is the input power. Notice that this only describes how the output is proportional to the input and so we cannot calculate the absolute input power from the output. These calculations are made possible by telescope calibration.


Radiometer Calibration

The behavior of radiometer output is more commonly discussed as a temperature rather than a voltage or power level. The so-called noise temperature is dened by P = kB Ts Bn (2.42)

2.6. Radiometer Calibration


where P is the power delivered by a noise source, kB is Boltzmanns constant, Ts is the noise temperature and Bn is the bandwidth of the signal in Hz [3]. The noise gure, a common specication on RF electronic components, describes how the intrinsic noise of the component degrades the quality of the signal being passed through it. It is dened as the ratio of the signal-to-noise ratios in decibels, or [3] SN Rin F = 10 log SN Rout
( )


The rst step toward calibrating a radiometer is to determine its intrinsic noise temperature which describes its noise output when no input is present. It would be convenient if we could point the telescope at something which produces absolutely no radio frequency radiation, however such things do not exist, so calibration becomes a more complicated process. To do this we compare the behavior when the telescope is pointed at sources of known ux density. Most often the Sun is used as a reference and is compared to the observed temperature of the cold sky, or some region of space that does not have a strong radio emitter. The noise temperature of the antenna can be written as Tsys = Ssrc Tsky 2KB (Ssrc /Ssky 1) (2.44)

where Ssrc is the known ux density of a measured source and Tsky is the measured temperature of a cold point in the sky. For example, if the Sun were to be used as a calibration source, we would rst calculate the ratio of the observed ux density of the sun and the observed ux density of some quiet point in the sky.


Chapter 2. Theory

Figure 2.7 A plot of the radio frequency radiation from the Sun as a function of wavelength. Frequency is given along the top in MHz. At Ku Band (10 to 12 GHz) we can measure quiet Sun bremmstrahlung as well as synchrotron radiation arising from sunspots and intense radio bursts. Source: [15]

2.6. Radiometer Calibration


Radio Signal
Telescope Antenna Low Noise Preamp

IF Signal

DC Voltage
Diode Detector Data Collection

Local Oscillator

Figure 2.8 A functional block diagram of a typical superheterodyne receiver. A low noise amplier amplies the input signal before it is converted down to an intermediate frequency and ltered using band-pass lters. The ltered output is passed through a diode detector which converts the AC signal to a DC power level.


Chapter 2. Theory

Chapter 3 Design and Implementation

The radio telescope described in this paper was designed to be exible and inexpensive without sacricing too much radiometer sensitivity. Less than $700 was spent on the project, almost all of which was spent on developing the receiver. The telescope can only operate in drift mode at this time due to lack of automated motor control.



The telescope antenna is a 3m parabolic dish previously used to receive a satellite internet connection, provided free of charge by a donor in Spencer, NY. The telescope is planted outside the Clinton Ford Observatory at Ithaca College. We plan to mount it such that it points toward the equator and both the Sun and the center of the Milky Way will pass through the beamwidth. This is sucient for simple ux measurements of these accessible sources.



Chapter 3. Design and Implementation



The resolution of an ideal parabolic antenna can be modeled by [3] R = 1.22 , D (3.1)

where D is the diameter of the dish and is the wavelength of radiation being observed. A smaller value of R corresponds to a more narrow beamwidth. Objects with smaller angular size in the sky can be resolved by telescopes with better resolutions. At Ku band ( 3 cm), then, the resolution of our 3 meter parabolic antenna is about 0.01 rad or about 35 arcminutes. This is comparable to the apparent size of the Sun.



The gain of a parabolic antenna is modeled by G= 2 d2 eA 2 (3.2)

where G is the d is the diameter of the dish, is the wavelength observed, and eA is a term which describes the eciency of the dish. Typically, parabolic antennas range in eciency values from 0.5 to 0.75 [3]. Assuming that our dish is perfectly ecient, we expect a gain of about 120 dB, but realistically the gain probably lies somewhere near 80 dB. Calibration will determine a specic value.


Superheterodyne Receiver

The receiver developed for this project is an adaptation of the analog version of Haystack Observatorys Small Radio Telescope (SRT). A newer, digital version of the SRT is also commercially available, and complete schematics for both versions as well

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


as some limited documentation are freely downloadable on the MIT website [24]. These schematics served as the basis for our circuit designs. The IF lters and ampliers used here remain largely unchanged, with only a few component values changed to improve eciency. The local oscillator and power supply circuits have been redesigned to suit the desired functionality, and some extra ampliers for enhanced drive capability have been added. Since the SRT is designed to receive L Band signals and we have engineered our telescope for Ku Band, we have purchased a Ku Band Low Noise Block (LNB) which downconverts a Ku Band input signal to L Band. The complete receiver receives a Ku Band input which is downconverted to L Band at the feed horn, transmitted to an RF Receiver board also placed at the horn which mixes the L band signal down to audio frequencies, and nally transmitted via coaxial cable to a second circuit board which holds additional lter-ampliers and a square law detector. The output of this second board goes to a computer for data collection. For complete schematics of the nal design, images of the PCB layout, and photographs of the circuit boards, see Figs 3.3 and 3.2. A block diagram of the complete system can be seen in Fig 3.1.


Ku Band Low Noise Block

Lumped-element circuits, even with the smallest surface-mount components, are not well-behaved at frequencies above 10 GHz. It is possible to construct such circuit boards, however it requires the precise impedance control of microstrip board traces to prevent signal loss due to reections. This type of impedance control dramatically increases the price of PCB fabrication to the point that it was not feasible for this project. As a far more aordable alternative, we sought to purchase a commercial block converter. Low Noise Blocks (LNBs), as they are referred to in the satellite communications


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation


nd Ba





Ku Band









Figure 3.1 Block diagram of the complete telescope. The Ku Band (11 GHz) input signal undergoes two frequency modulations and several stages of amplication and ltering before being rectied to a DC voltage by the square law detector. The output of the square law detector is connected to a computer for data collection.

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


Figure 3.2 Schematic of the RF receiver circuit, which connects directly to the output of the LNB. It houses the frequency mixers, local oscillator, and phase detecting lters.


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

Figure 3.3 Schematic of the IF detector circuit, which houses the 4-pole Butterworth lter and the square law detector.

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


industry, consist of a high gain amplier, a frequency mixer for down-conversion, and sometimes a phase-locked loop for stability control. They are designed to receive high frequency signals from satellites at the antenna, usually at C band, Ku band, or more rarely X band. It amplies these signals and converts them to an IF suitable for transmission along common coaxial lines. Thus, they serve the exact same purpose as the rst stages of a superheterodyne receiver. LNBs can be found for a wide range of prices. Aside from designated frequency input, they are specied for gain, overall noise gure, phase noise, voltage standing wave ratio, and local oscillator stability. The most inexpensive LNBs are noisy and have typical voltage standing-wave ratios (VSWR) of 3:1 or worse. VSWR is a specication that describes how much power is typically lost due to the reections of electromagnetic waves propogating through the device. Perfectly designed devices have uniform impedance throughout and produce no reections, so the VSWR is 1:1. Inexpensive LNBs also allow for drifting of the local oscillator frequency by 1 MHz or higher. These devices are sucient for a satellite TV receiver, which receives high amplitude signals and does not pass them through much further amplication before they reach their destination. However, for a radio telescope, too much intrinsic noise at the antenna can render the entire system unusable. The smallest noise signal will be amplied by each successive amplier stage in the receiver and can become large enough to obscure telescope measurements. As a result we chose to purchase a high quality industrial-grade LNB with lower noise gures. The LNB was purchased from Orbital Research (model LNB1075S-500P-WF65) for $280. It species a noise gure of 0.6 dB with a gain of 65 dB. Generally, LNBs do not have a separate connector port for a power supply. It is expected that the power supply voltage will be multiplexed with its output signal as shown in Fig 3.4. In typical communications applications this is accomplished with a

15V Power Supply

Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

RF Only

DC Power


To Modem

To RF Receiver

(SMA) (F-Female) RF Signal DC Power

10 MHz Ref



Figure 3.4 A multiplexer is the conventional method of supplying power to an LNB. A DC power signal is connected to the multiplexer which passes power to the LNB and receives the RF signal from the LNB through the same port. The multiplexer passes this RF signal to the modem (the receiver circuit board) but blocks the DC power through this port. As a result the receiver must be powered by other means. multiplexer, called a bias tee, which is built in to commercial satellite modems. The manufacturers of the LNB were kind enough to provide me with a bias tee, usually priced at $100, free of charge. For inputs the bias tee takes the LNB power supply and its output signal. It also has a port for a 10 MHz reference signal for external local oscillator control, but our LNB does not have this feature. The bias tee allows the power supply signal to ow into the input of the LNB but blocks it from owing through its output, which goes to the rest of the receiver.


L Band Frequency Mixer and Local Oscillator

As part of the telescope receiver, the LNB amplies the raw Ku band signal by a nominal 65 dB and downconverts it to L band. This L band signal is a suitable input for the printed circuit boards we have developed. The local oscillator signal on this board is generated by a voltage controlled oscillator (VCO), Minicircuits JTOS-1550. This chip was chosen because the control pin can rest at its minimum voltage and a suitable signal will still be produced. It has a frequency output of between 1150 and 1550 MHz depending on the control voltage, ranging from 0.5 V to 20 V. A

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


potentiometer has been placed on the tuning pin so that the LO frequency can be tuned if desired. The LO signal emitted by the VCO is amplied by a nominal 6 dBm using a monolithic amplier before being passed to a passive 90 power splitter, Minicircuits QCN-19D. This splitter outputs two signals, one in phase with the LO and one 90 out of phase. The splitter provides no amplication so the outputs are each at roughly half the power level of the input. The L band signal transmitted from the output of the LNB is independently mixed with these two signals using a a pair of Minicircuits RMS-11F+ frequency multipliers. The purpose of splitting the RF signal in this way is so that they can be ltered using phase detector circuits, which provide a high level of isolation from the unwanted image signals.


Filter-Amplier Stages

The purpose of the circuits following the RMS-11F+ frequency mixers are to greatly amplify the signal and lter it to a pass-band with corner points at 10 KHz and 70 KHz. The outputs of the frequency mixers are rst passed to identical non-inverting ampliers constructed using high speed op-amps, Analog Devices 797ARZ. These opamps produce a gain of 20 dB. Following both of these ampliers are all-pass lters, also called a phase detector. The all-pass lter, as its name suggests, passes signals of all frequencies (within the limits of the op-amp) with unity gain, and changes only the phase of the output. The phase shift produced by the all-pass lter can be written in radians as = 2 arctan(RC ) (3.3)

The capacitance values in our circuit are 10 nF for the in-phase signal and 1500 pF for the out of phase signal. The resistance values are the same for both - 1K. The outputs of these all-pass lters are combined into one signal - when they are in phase, the


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

maximum amplitude will be produced. When they are out of phase, the total signal will be greatly attenuated. From this, we can see how the phase detector lters out unwanted frequencies. At 40 KHz, the center of the passband, the in-phase signal is shifted by 138 while the quadrature-phase signal, already 90 out of phase, is shifted by an additional 43 for a total phase shift of 133 . The result is a superposition of signals which are only 5 out of phase. As the input frequency moves away from the center passband, the output signals becomes further out of phase until reaching a 90 phase shift at DC and total deconstructive interference (180 phase shift) at high frequencies. Testing these circuits using articial sine wave inputs produced good results, yielding unity gain at all tested frequencies for the individual phase detectors and a maximum amplitude mixed output near 40 KHz as seen in Fig 3.5. The blocked frequencies were found to decrease by roughly 15 to 20 dB per decade but attenuated to zero quickly. Two more unity gain lter-ampliers reside on the IF circuit board. Together these make a 4-pole Butterworth lter. This lter is designed to improve the atness of the passband between 10 KHz and 70 KHz. A common way to describe a lter is by its transfer function. The transfer function, denoted H (s), is dened as the ratio of the laplace transform of the output voltage to the laplace transform of the input voltage. H (s) = Y (s) L[Vout ] = X (s) L[Vin ] (3.4)

The laplace transform converts a function in the time domain to one in the frequency domain, thus, the transfer function is a time-independent expression for the lters complex gain as a function of frequency [26]. The transfer function of this topology is given in general as [27] H (s) = Z3 Z 4 Z1 Z2 + Z4 (Z1 + Z2 ) + Z3 Z4 (3.5)

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


1 0.95 0.85 0.75 0.65 0.55 Voltage Gain 0.45






40 Frequency (KHz)






Figure 3.5 Plot of the gain of the image rejection mixer built from two allpass lters with dierent input reactances. The pass band is observed to be near 40 KHz as anticipated.


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

Figure 3.6 The band pass lter used in the audio section of our superheterodyne receiver consists of two Sallen-Key lters in series, which have the topology pictured above. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) where the impedances Z are specied according to the diagram in Fig 3.6. Specically, this Butterworth lter is two Sallen-Key lters placed in series. The Sallen-Key topology has a cuto frequency at [27] fC = 1 2 R1 R2 C1 C2 (3.6)

so these lters have a frequency cuto at roughly 25 KHz (Q300 in Fig 3.10) and 60 KHz (Q301). Gain is approximately equal to +53 dB within this pass band, and decreases at a nominal 80dB per decade outside of the pass band. Bench tests with this circuit conrm the passband suggested by the theory as shown in Fig 3.7.


Detector Circuit

The receiver has two outputs, one on the output of a square law diode rectier and another right before the input to the detector. The AC output can be used to troubleshoot the detector, and is also useful if one wants to bypass the square law detector

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


50 40 30 20 10 0 10 20 30 20 30 40 50 Frequency (Hz) 60 70

Gain (dB)

Figure 3.7 A plot of the measured gain of the 4-pole Butterworth lter on the IF circuit board. The experimental gain is depicted in blue, and a plot constructed from an LTSpice simulation is depicted in red. This lter consists of two Sallen-Key lters placed in series, with the rst (Q300) providing lowpass ltering and the second (Q301) providing high-pass ltering. These lters are designed to provide a pass band between 25 KHz and 60 KHz.


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

entirely. Converting the AC signal to a DC voltage is done in hardware with the square law detector but it is equally viable to do it using software. The square law detector is designed using a germanium schottky diode. Schottky diodes have a nominal forward voltage of 0.2 V [26]. A resistor network connected to the power supply biases the anode and cathode of the schottky diode such that when the input amplitude is zero, the diode rests near the edge of saturation. A 0.1 uF capacitor recties the output signal into a DC voltage. Since this signal is weak, an amplier has been inserted on the output. This amplier is a non-inverting op-amp based amplier with a nominal voltage gain of 50.


Printed Circuit Board Design

Our receiver is split into two circuit boards, one which houses the radio frequency components and initial ampliers, and another which completes the ltering and houses the diode detector. This was done so that the RF circuits would be small enough to t in the feed horn of the antenna with the LNB. Transmitting the L band signal from the LNB over any long distance could cause power loss due to reections. Additionally, the RF circuits are such that small-scale surface mount components must be used to prevent radiative power loss. In the IF board the signals are on the order of 50 KHz so this is not a concern. The free CAD software suite ExpressPCB was used to draw the schematics and PCBs for the receiver. The PCB drawings for the RF and IF boards can be seen in Fig 3.9 and 3.10 respectively. SMT soldering is done using a process called reow soldering, where instead of using a traditional soldering iron to heat connections, the board is placed in a reow oven and heated using a specied heat prole. Solder paste is used to secure components to their pads before heating. When the paste reaches temperatures above 200

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


Temp (C)

250 200 150 100 50

Preheat Soaking Reflow Cooling Time (s)





Figure 3.8 A plot of the suggested heat prole for successful reow soldering using 64Sn/36Pb solder paste. This heat prole was used to solder SMT components to our PCBs using a common commercial frying pan. C the metals inside melt and the connection is made. The solder paste used here is 64% tin and 36% lead. It is specied as a free-owing solder paste, which is more diluted than a solder paste specied for restricted ow. Free-owing solder paste is hard to work with when making very small connections. For example, one would not choose a free-owing paste to solder a 64-pin microcontroller. For our purposes it proved easy to work with. Lacking a true reow oven, we opted to use a frying pan instead. In an informal study by Sparkfun of inexpensive SMT soldering methods this was shown to be the best. The heating prole used for soldering is depicted in Fig 3.8.


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

Figure 3.9 PCB layout schematic of the RF receiver circuit which receives the signal from the LNB at the antenna. Our PCBs were designed using ExpressPCB software. Most components are surface-mounted and were soldered by reow soldering. The green represents the ground plane on the bottom of the board while the red represents traces and plane connections on the top of the board. The silkscreen is in yellow.

3.2. Superheterodyne Receiver


Figure 3.10 PCB layout schematic of the IF detector circuit which is positioned on the ground near the computer used for data collection. Most components here are through-hole and were soldered by hand. The color scheme is the same as in the RF board.


Chapter 3. Design and Implementation

Chapter 4 Results and Testing

4.1 Data Collection

Collection of raw radio telescope data is done using Matlab software. The receiver output signal is connected to a NIDAQ DaqCard 6024E interface. This interface is connected to a laptop PC through PCMCIA which runs the Matlab script. It has a maximum sample rate of 200 KHz and 12 bits of resolution. At the maximum voltage input range of 10 V this corresponds to a resolution of 2.4 mV. The MATLAB script monitors the voltage at the DaqCard port at the given sample rate and stores it in a vector with a timestamp. This is more than sucient for the expected outputs. The code for this software can be found in Appendix A.


Receiver Testing

Rigorous bench testing of the complete telescope receiver requires a suitable test input signal. The ideal input signal for testing is a Ku band noise source, however any RF signal generator operating near Ku band would suce. Commercial RF 53


Chapter 4. Results and Testing

generators and noise sources are expensive and were not available for this project, so an alternative method of testing was necessary. A 10.5 GHz microwave transmitter and an RF frequency meter were obtained for this purpose. We have also obtained a commercial frequency meter that is capable of measuring signals up to 3 GHz in frequency. This allows us to characterize the signals owing through the L band portion of our circuitry. The 10.5 GHz signal from the microwave horn lies outside the specied bandwidth of the LNB, and so we expect the lters in the LNB to attenuate the signal. Also note that the majority of the power from this signal will not pass through the lterampliers since its frequency is too high. For this reason, power measurements are not especially useful, however we may still draw conclusions about the behavior of the receiver by examining the output. The frequency meter reports a signal at the output of the LNB centered near 850 MHz, which is in agreement with the expected intermediate frequency specied in the LNB datasheet. We also observe this signal at the input to the RMS-11F frequency mixers. The output of the mixers produces a signal which appears to be centered near 200 MHz. Given that the local oscillator operates at about 1100 MHz, 200 MHz is approximately the dierence of the two inputs, so this is a reasonable result. From this we conclude that the receiver is correctly mixing the L band input and the local oscillator signals. At the audio output of the receiver we observe the ltered signal via PCMCIA interface as recorded by the Matlab software. Manually waving the microwave horn across the beam of the LNB produces a noise-like signal that is much stronger than the receivers background noise. Around the edges of the beam, the measured intensity is decreased because only part of the microwave signal emitted from the horn is absorbed. When the horn is placed directly perpendicular to the LNB, the maximum amplitude is produced. We have chosen to check this signal at the audio output

4.2. Receiver Testing


500 400 300 200 Voltage (mV) 100 0 100 200 300 400 500 3 3.5 Time (s)
Figure 4.1 Demonstration of the receiver collecting Ku band radio waves and converting them to an amplied audio frequency signal. This output is the result of passing 15 mW of microwave radiation at 10.5 GHz directly in front of the beam of the LNB and recording the output via PCMCIA interface. At the maximum amplitude of the output we see a voltage of 420 mV corresponding to a 50 -matched power of 3.6 mW. Notice that despite the large amounts of gain in the receiver, the output is lower in power than the original input signal - this is due to the fact that the input frequency lies outside the pass band of the LNB.



Chapter 4. Results and Testing

8 6 4 Voltage (mV) 2 0 2 4 6 8 0.8




1 1.05 Time (s)




Figure 4.2 With no power supplied to the LNB the intrinsic noise of the receiver is observed to be on the order of 2 to 4 mV, corresponding to less than 1 W of RMS power. The resolution limitations of our computer interface is evident. While this does not reveal the noise temperature of the overall system since the noise of the LNB is not taken into account, it does show that the lter-ampliers generate very little noise, as expected. rather than at the output of the square law detector because the signal is strong, and lies outside of the square law region of the diode, which is near -20 dBm. This shows that even with the frequency band mismatch, a 15 mW signal incident on the LNB antenna is enough to drive the detector well beyond its intended input range, which results in non-linearity. Astronomical signals will be signicantly weaker and we do not expect to have this problem when taking real measurements.

Chapter 5 Conclusions and Future Work

We have successfully developed an antenna and receiver system which collects and measures Ku band radio waves. Based on laboratory testing we nd that the receiver is suciently sensitive such that the telescope will be capable of detecting astronomical sources of radio such as the Sun and the Milky Way. Due to time constraints, astronomical data has not yet been collected with the telescope at the time of this writing. A mechanism for the mounting of the antenna is currently in development. We expect to begin calibrating the telescope and conducting simple measurements when the antenna has been successfully mounted.


First Expected Observations

The antenna mount will allow us to steer the beam of the telescope and aim it at specic sources of radio. Since the Sun is low in the sky in the winter months this will be necessary for solar measurements. Once the telescope is mounted and the receiver is properly set up for data collection at Ford Observatory, we will be able to calibrate the system using the process described in Section 2.6. This process should include a 57


Chapter 5. Conclusions and Future Work

measurement of the total ux from the Sun, since that is the most accessible radio source in the sky. This can be compared against the ux measured by professional solar observatory such as SOHO. For a hot reference source, the simplest method would be to point the dish at the observatory building or at the ground if possible. If the calibration of the telescope and measurements of the Sun are successful, the next target for measurement should be the Milky Way. Positioning of the telescope beam is not crucial in this case since the galaxy covers a large portion of the night sky and it is likely that some part of it would pass through the beam at some point in the day. A common method of calibrating smaller radio telescopes is to cool a slab of foam to liquid nitrogen temperatures and point the beam toward it.


Longterm Goals

If it is found that the telescope receiver is sensitive enough to observe more elusive sources of radio or distinguish between the Suns levels of radio activity due to radio bursts, as we expect it may be, an automated and computerized steering system will have to be developed. This constitutes a signicant longterm mechanical engineering project and may also be expensive. Little research has been done on steering mechanism designs thus far since we have mainly been concerned with the viability of drift measurements. Given a computerized steering mechanism, we would be able to conduct some simple research tasks with the telescope. This includes monitoring the Sun for increased sunspot activity which manifests itself as a stronger ux in the radio range. The most eective way to monitor for these changes is to program the telescope to follow the Sun across the sky and record the data over several days (or weeks.) We may also measure the galactic rotation curve of the Milky Way by similar tracking methods.

5.2. Longterm Goals


The possibility of observing at L band can also be explored. The primary motivation for observing at L band is to measure emission from neutral Hydrogen. Most smaller radio telescopes operate in this band, so the expected results are also welldocumented. Converting the receiver from Ku band to L band can be accomplished simply by replacing the Ku band LNB with a low noise, high gain amplier since the second stage of the receiver is designed to receive L band signals. However, since our LNB also acts as the feed, a custom feed horn would have to be developed.


Chapter 5. Conclusions and Future Work

Appendix A Matlab Script

Below is the Matlab script used to collect data from the output of the receiver. It has been adapted from a script written by Dr. Bruce Thompson for PHYS 360, Intermediate Physics Laboratory, at Ithaca College. function[data,t]=GetAnalogData(deviceName, NofChannels, SampleRate, NofSamples); \% function to get analog data via the National Instruments DAQ card \% input: \% \% \% \% \% \% output: \% \% data t data samples in NofChannels columns times of the samples in data SampleRate NofSamples NofChannels the number of channels to aquire, sampling will be sequential from channel 0 to N-1 the sample rate in Hz total number of samples to obtain per channel

\% set up analog IO 61

62 daq = daqhwinfo(nidaq) device = deviceName; ai=analoginput(nidaq,device); daq = daqhwinfo(ai) c=0:NofChannels-1; addchannel(ai, c); set(ai, InputType,SingleEnded); set(ai, SampleRate, SampleRate); set(ai, SamplesPerTrigger,NofSamples); set(ai, TriggerType,Manual);

Appendix A. Matlab Script

\%initiate the device start(ai);

\% show parameters and wait for start keypress TT=NofSamples/SampleRate; sprintf(NChan: \%2i SRate: \%f NSamples: \%6i Time: \%f\n, ... NofChannels, SampleRate, NofSamples, TT);

trigger(ai); [data,t]=getdata(ai);

\% Clear the memory upon completion delete(ai); clear ai;

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