RF data conversion systems are experiencing rapid changes as ADC and DAC performance specifications and form factors, along with new sensor technologies (Rx & Tx), continue to advance. One system level design problem has been consistent throughout—balancing the implementation tradeoffs between the analog and digital circuitry for maximum software/system flexibility (from sensor to the digital processing units’ input/output).
Microwave RF softwarization in the Ka-band will upend satellite air interface design & deliver substantially more versatile platforms over the next decade. The disruptions impacting the space industry suggest the necessity of a development path towards fully software-defined satellites or SoftSats that deliver on-orbit reconfigurability and transponder re-use.
This paper covers design choices of the world’s first K-band data converter. By avoiding established CMOS design principles and applying an ultra-high speed process, new capabilities emerged; a compact, single-core quantizer and design expertise led to breakthrough performance and layout and circuit simplifications are dominant design considerations.