The Traveling Wavetube

The TRAVELING WAVETUBE (twt) is a high-gain, low-noise, wide-bandwidth microwave amplifier. It is capable of gains greater than 40 dB with bandwidths exceeding an octave. (A bandwidth of 1 octave is one in which the upper frequency is twice the lower frequency.) Traveling-wave tubes have been designed for frequencies as low as 300 megahertz and as high as 50 gigahertz. The twt is primarily a voltage amplifier. The wide-bandwidth and low-noise characteristics make the twt ideal for use as an rf amplifier in microwave equipment.

The physical construction of a typical twt is shown in the figure below. The twt contains an electron gun which produces and then accelerates an electron beam along the axis of the tube. The surrounding magnet provides a magnetic field along the axis of the tube to focus the electrons into a tight beam. The HELIX, at the center of the tube, is a coiled wire that provides a low-impedance transmission line for the rf energy within the tube.

The rf input and output are coupled onto and removed from the helix by directional couplers that have no physical connection to the helix. If the rf energy is transported on coaxial cables, the coaxial couplers are wound in a helical manner similar to that shown in the figure below. If the rf energy is transported in waveguides, waveguide directional couplers are used. The attenuator prevents any reflected waves from traveling back down the helix.


Physical construction of a twt.

A simplified version of twt operation is shown in figure below. In the figure, an electron beam is passing along a nonresonant transmission line represented by a straight wire. The input to the transmission line is an rf wave which travels on the line from input to output. The line will transport a wide range of rf frequencies if it is terminated in the characteristic impedance of the line. The electromagnetic waves traveling down the line produce electric fields that interact with the electrons of the beam.


Simplified twt.

If the electrons of the beam were accelerated to travel faster than the waves traveling on the wire, bunching would occur through the effect of velocity modulation. Velocity modulation would be caused by the interaction between the traveling-wave fields and the electron beam. Bunching would cause the electrons to give up energy to the traveling wave if the fields were of the correct polarity to slow down the bunches. The energy from the bunches would increase the amplitude of the traveling wave in a progressive action that would take place all along the length of the twt, as shown in the figure above.

However, because the waves travel along the wire at the speed of light, the simple twt shown in the figure above will not work. At present no way is known to accelerate an electron beam to the speed of light. Since the electron beam cannot travel faster than the wave on the wire, bunching will not take place and the tube will not work. The twt is therefore designed with a delay structure to slow the traveling wave down to or below the speed of the electrons in the beam.

A common twt delay structure is a wire, wound in the form of a long coil or helix, as shown in the next figure below, view (A). The shape of the helix slows the effective velocity of the wave along the common axis of the helix and the tube to about one-tenth the speed of light. The wave still travels down the helix wire at the speed of light, but the coiled shape causes the wave to travel a much greater total distance than the electron beam. The speed at which the wave travels down the tube can be varied by changing the number of turns or the diameter of the turns in the helix wire. The helical delay structure works well because it has the added advantage of causing a large proportion of electric fields that are parallel to the electron beam. The parallel fields provide maximum interaction between the fields and the electron beam.


Functional diagram of a twt.

In a typical twt, the electron beam is directed down the center of the helix while, at the same time, an rf signal is coupled onto the helix. The electrons of the beam are velocity-modulated by the electric fields produced by the rf signal.

Amplification begins as the electron bunches form and release energy to the signal on the helix. The slightly amplified signal causes a denser electron bunch which, in turn, amplifies the signal even more. The amplification process is continuous as the rf wave and the electron beam travel down the length of the tube.

Any portion of the twt output signal that reflects back to the input will cause oscillations within the tube which results in a decrease in amplification. Attenuators are placed along the length of the helix to prevent reflections from reaching the input. The attenuator causes a loss in amplitude, as can be seen in the figure above, view (B), but it can be placed so as to minimize losses while still isolating the input from the output.

The relatively low efficiency of the twt partially offsets the advantages of high gain and wide bandwidth. The internal attenuator reduces the gain of the tube, and the power required to energize the focusing magnet is an operational loss that cannot be recovered. The twt also produces heat which must be dissipated by either air-conditioning or liquid-cooling systems. All of these factors reduce the overall efficiency of the twt, but the advantages of high gain and wide bandwidth are usually enough to overcome the disadvantages.

The Backward-Wave Oscillator

The BACKWARD-WAVE OSCILLATOR (bwo) is a microwave-frequency, velocity-modulated tube that operates on the same principle as the twt. However, a traveling wave that moves from the electron gun end of the tube toward the collector is not used in the bwo. Instead, the bwo extracts energy from the electron. beam by using a backward wave that travels from the collector toward the electron gun (cathode). Otherwise, the electron bunching action and energy extraction from the electron beam is very similar to the actions in a twt.

The typical bwo is constructed from a folded transmission line or waveguide that winds back and forth across the path of the electron beam, as shown in the figure below. The folded waveguide in the illustration serves the same purpose as the helix in a twt. The fixed spacing of the folded waveguide limits the bandwidth of the bwo. Since the frequency of a given waveguide is constant, the frequency of the bwo is controlled by the transit time of the electron beam. The transit time is controlled by the collector potential. Thus, the output frequency can be changed by varying the collector voltage, which is a definite advantage. As in the twt, the electron beam in the bwo is focused by a magnet placed around the body of the tube.


typical bwo.

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