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Introduction to phased array antennas

This post subject is phased array antennas. They are many arranged radiators to behave like a single antenna.

Operation principle

The phased array antennas behave like a single antenna which can change the propagation direction of an electromagnetic wave without executing a mechanical movement, using the principle of wave interference.

Constructive and destructive interferences

When two or more waves meet each other at a point, occurs an interference. The interference will be totally constructive (on the right) if waves have the same phase and the resulting wave will have a higher amplitude than the individual ones that met each other. If the phase difference is 180º, interference is totally destructive (on the left) and waves cancel each other.

wave interference
Source: Mesoatomic.

What If the phase difference is between 0 and 180º (or π)? When closer to 0, more constructive will be and when closer to 180º, more destructive will be the interference.

In an intermediary interference, between 0 and π, waves don’t cancel each other. However, the result of interference has a lower amplitude. δ=difference between phases and λ=wavelenght. Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Phased array antennas

If all antennas transmit at same phase, the resulting electromagnetic wave will spread in the perpendicular direction to antennas’ alignment.

phased array antennas
When each transmitter adjusts the phase Φ, so that each one has a phase difference in relation to the next, the electromagnetic waves interfere with each other in a way that the resulting wave spreads with a deviation angle (\theta _{S}). Source: Satcom Guru.

The formula to calculate phase variation (\Delta\phi) between antennas.

\Delta\phi=\frac{360^{\circ}d\cdot sen(\theta_{S})}{\lambda}

Where \lambda is transmitted wave’s wavelength.

Types of phased array antennas

  • Linear arrangement.
phased array antennas in line
The antennas are positioned to form a line, it’s the simplest arrangement, but propagation is only in a plane. Source: Cadence.
  • Planar arrangement.
Antennas form an array, and direction can be adjusted in two axes. However, requires a higher number of phase shifting circuits, one for each antenna. Source: RFmicrotech.
  • Frequency sweep array: each radiator transmits in a different frequency to change propagation direction. It’s simpler because it doesn’t have phase shifters, but, for using many frequencies, it’s more subject to interference and has bandwidth limitations.
  • PESA (Passive Electronically Steered Array): A single transceiver (transmitter and receiver) is used for all antennas.
  • AESA (Active Electronically Steered Array): each radiator has a transceiver and a receiver.
  • HBF (Hybrid Beam Forming): the combination of PESA and AESA, the array is divided into subarrays and each one of the subarrays has a transceiver for an antenna subarray.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages are:

  • Allow a very fast beam’s direction change.
  • The replacement of mechanical parts for electronics makes the system lighter.
  • High directivity, which reduces interference.
  • Allow many directions.

The disadvantages:

  • Sweep is limited to 120º on both axes.
  • Still expensive.
  • High complexity.

Some applications

  • 5G wireless communication systems.
phased array antenas in a PCB
Phased array antennas in a printed circuit board for 5G communication. Source: (Gu e Sadhu, 2021).
  • Military radars that need to detect a large number of targets at high velocity use phased array antennas.
The AESA system in a MiG-35. Source: everythingRF.
  • Space communication between satellites or between a satellite and a probe.

About Pedro Ney Stroski

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