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DARPA Wants to Transform Vacuum Electronics For Superior Communications, Data Transmissions


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traveling wave tube, cutaway view

This cutaway view shows all critical components of a traveling wave tube: electron gun, magnetic circuit, electron collector, and windows that let signals flow in and out.

Credit: DARPA

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to improve the performance and reliability of vacuum electronic devices (VEDs). Critical components for defense and civilian systems, VEDs require high power, wide bandwidth, and high efficiency. DARPA has launched a new program to build higher operation radio frequency signals that are "louder," or harder to jam and interfere with.

The Innovative Vacuum Electronics Science and Technology (INVEST) program could lead to more versatile communication, data transmission, and other capabilities that will be beneficial in military and civilian environments. "To open pathways towards those advances, the INVEST program aims to strengthen the science and technology base for new generations of vacuum tubes operating at millimeter-wave frequencies above 75 GHz," DARPA says.

INVEST is seeking fundamental research projects in areas that include physics-based modeling and simulation of VEDs, innovative component design, electron emission processes, and advanced manufacturing. "Any time you need to operate at the outer reaches of the power-frequency parameter space, vacuum tubes are the technology of choice," says DARPA's Dev Palmer. "But at the high millimeter-wave frequencies of interest to this program, the design and construction of VEDs is an intricate, labor-intensive process that requires exquisite modeling tools, exotic materials, and expensive, high-precision machining."

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