When the automobile industry really began to take off in the 1930s, radar was barely in its infancy, and there was no reason to think something that complicated would ever make its way into the typical car. Yet here we stand less than 100 years later, and radar has been perfected and streamlined so much that an entire radar set can be built on a single chip, and commodity radar modules can be sprinkled all around the average vehicle.
Looking inside these modules is always fascinating, especially when your tour guide is [Shahriar Shahramian] of The Signal Path, as it is for this deep dive into an Infineon 24-GHz automotive radar module. The interesting bit here is the BGT24LTR11 Doppler radar ASIC that Infineon uses in the module, because, well, there’s really not much else on the board. The degree of integration is astonishing here, and [Shahriar]’s walk-through of the datasheet is excellent, as always.
Things get interesting once he gets the module under the microscope and into the X-ray machine, but really interesting once the RF ASIC is uncapped, at the 15:18 mark. The die shots of the silicon germanium chip are impressively clear, and the analysis of all the main circuit blocks — voltage-controlled oscillator, power amps, mixer, LNAs — is clear and understandable. For our money, though, the best part is the look at the VCO circuit, which appears to use a bank of fuses to tune the tank inductor and keep the radar within a tight 250-Mz bandwidth, for regulatory reasons. We’d love to know more about the process used in the factory to do that bit.
This isn’t [Shahriar]’s first foray into automotive radar, of course — he looked at a 77-GHz FMCW car radar a while back. That one was bizarrely complicated, though, so there’s something more approachable about a commodity product like this.
It looks like the Martian winter may have claimed another victim, with reports that Chinese ground controllers have lost contact with the Zhurong rover. The solar-powered rover was put into hibernation back in May 2022, thanks to a dust storm that kicked up a couple of months before the start of local winter. Controllers hoped that they would be able to reestablish contact with the machine once Spring rolled around in December, but the rover remains quiet. It may have suffered the same fate as Opportunity, which had its solar panels covered in dust after a planet-wide sandstorm and eventually gave up the ghost.
What’s worse, it seems like the Chinese are having trouble talking to the Tianwen-1 orbiter, too. There are reports that controllers can’t download data from the satellite, which is a pity because it could potentially be used to image the Zhurong landing site in Utopia Planitia to see what’s up. All this has to be taken with a grain of dust, of course, since the Chinese aren’t famously transparent with their space program. But here’s hoping that both the rover and the orbiter beat the odds and start doing science again soon.
These devices have a superficially very simple circuit that makes extensive use of PCB layout for creating microwave inductors, capacitors, and tuned circuits. There’s a FET oscillator and a diode mixer, and a dielectric resonator coupling the output and input inductors of the FET. This component provides the frequency stability, but its exact frequency depends on what lies within its electric field. Thus the screening can does more than screening, and has a significant effect on the frequency and stability of the oscillator.
The higher quality HB100s have a small tuning screw in the top of the can which in turn adjusts the frequency. This should be tweaked in the factory onto the correct point, but is frequently absent in the cheaper examples. In this case he has a pile of modules, and while surprisingly some are pretty close there are outliers that lie a significant distance away.
If you use an HB100 then the chances are nobody will ever bother you if it’s off-frequency, as its power output is tiny. But it’s worth knowing about their inner workings and also how to adjust them should you ever need to. Meanwhile if you’re interested in Doppler radar, here’s how to design one for a lower frequency.
Lots of space news this week, with the big story being that Artemis I finally blasted off for its trip to the Moon. It was a spectacular night launch, with the SLS sending the crew-rated but vacant — well, mostly vacant — Orion spacecraft on a week-ish long trip to the Moon, before spending a couple of weeks testing out a distant retrograde orbit. The mission is already returning some stunning images, and the main mission goal is to check out the Orion spacecraft and everything needed for a crewed Artemis II lunar flyby sometime in 2024. If that goes well, Artemis III will head up in 2025 with a crew of four to put the first bootprints on the Moon in over 50 years.
Of course, like the Apollo missions before it, a big part of the crewed landings of the Artemis program will likely be the collection and return of more lunar rock and soil samples. But NASA likes to hedge its bets, which is perhaps why they’ve announced an agreement to purchase lunar regolith samples from the first private company to send a lander to the Moon. The Japanese start-up behind this effort is called ispace, and they’ve been issued a license by the Japanese government to transfer samples collected by its HAKUTO-R lander to NASA. Or rather, samples collected on the lander — the contract is for NASA to take possession of whatever regolith accumulates on the HAKUTO-R’s landing pads. And it’s not like ispace is going to return the samples — the lander isn’t designed to ever leave the lunar surface. The whole thing is symbolic of the future of space commerce, which is probably why NASA is only paying $5,000 for the dirt.
The average Hackaday reader should be familiar with the concept of determining the distance of a faraway object by measuring how long it takes a sound or radio wave to be reflected, such as in sonar and radar. Going another step and measuring Doppler Shift – the difference in the returned signal’s frequency – will tell us the velocity of the object relative to our position. It’s so simple that an Arduino can do it. But in the days of Apollo, there was no Arduino. In fact, there were no Integrated Circuits. And Apollo missions went all the way to the moon- far too distant for relatively simple Radar measurements. Continue reading “The Apollo Digital Ranging System: More Than Meets The Eye”→
When it comes to hunting down military radar installations and associated hardware, we typically think of equipment that is firmly in the price bracket of nation states and their military forces. Whether it’s early warning radar, those used for air defence, or for naval purposes, you’d think it was relatively difficult to intercept or track these emissions.
Millimeter-wave Radars used in modern cars for cruise control and collision avoidance are usually designed to work at ranges on the order of 100 meters or so. With some engineering nous, however, experimenters have gotten these devices sending signals over ranges of up to 60 km in some tests. [Machining and Microwaves] decided to see if he could push the boat out even further, and set out machining some waveguide combiner cavities so he could use the radar chips with some very high-performance antennas.
The end goal of the project is to produce a 53 dBi antenna for the 122GHz signal put out by the mmWave radar chips commonly found in automotive applications. Working at this frequency requires getting tolerances just so in order to create an antenna that performs well.
Plenty of fine lathe work and cheerful machining banter later, and the precision waveguide is done. It may not look like much to the untrained eye, but much careful design and machining went on to make it both easy to attach to the radar and parabolic antenna system, and to make it perform at a high enough level to hopefully break records set by other enterprising radio experimenters. If that wasn’t all hard enough, though, the final job involved making 24 of these things!
There aren’t a whole lot of microwave antenna-specific machining channels on YouTube, so if you’ve been thirsty for that kind of content, this video is very much for you. If you’re more interested in antennas for lower frequencies, though, you might find some of our other stories to your liking. Video after the break.