Originally created to be used in military radar systems, phased array radar systems are now widely used in civilian as well as military applications.
Phased arrays steer a beam of radio waves quickly across the sky to detect planes and missiles.
A phased array antenna is an array antenna whose single radiators can be fed with different phase shifts. As a result, the common antenna pattern can be steered electronically. The electronic steering is much more flexible and requires less maintenance than the mechanical steering of the antenna.
The principle of this antenna is based on the effect of interference, i.e., a phase-dependent superposition of two or (usually) several radiation sources. It can be observed that in-phase amplify each other and counter-phase signals cancel each other out. So if two radiators emit a signal in the same phase shift, a superposition is achieved – the signal is amplified in the main direction and attenuated in the secondary directions.
Any type of antenna can be used as a radiator in the phased array antenna. Significantly, the single radiators must be controlled with a variable phase shift and thus the main direction of the radiation can be changed continuously. To achieve high directivity, many radiators are used in the antenna field.
The antenna of the RRP-117, for example, consists of 1584 radiators whose received signal is still combined in an analog way to the antenna pattern. More modern multi-function radar sets, on the other hand, use the digital beamforming during the reception.
There are several advantages of using phased-array radar systems, including:
- Very fast change of beam direction in the range of microseconds
- High antenna gain with large side-lobe attenuation
- Freely selectable dwell time
- High beam agility
- Arbitrary space scanning
- Multi-function operation by simultaneous generation of multiple beams
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