Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yet another set of VNA calibration standards

This time - Type-N female. One of the most critical components in DIY calibration standard is the connector used to build it. The market is flooded with all kinds of connectors but most of them are of really shoddy quality (sorry to bash on China but that's where all the junk comes from). After playing with and testing different connectors, my conclusion is that one is shooting in the dark ordering connectors from China to use for DIY cal standards. Very rare there will be good enough connector from China, even for 60 MHz VNA cal standard. It is unbelievable the amount of sub-standard junk they make!
The best way to go about is to find high-quality brand name connectors on the surplus market. Ebay is also a good source but it takes time and patience to find what you need.
I've mentioned before that having a few sets of cal standard -different connector type and gender is very useful! I needed a good set of female Type-N OPEN and SHORT (I have a commercial LOAD).
One can buy on eBay a used female Type-N to female-SMA adapter of REALLY high quality for about $10/pc - I am talking about Amphenol 131-445 / HP-Agilent #1250-1404. Even at $30 this adapter is still a bargain. It is actually a bulkhead female Type-N used for commercial VNAs, Spectrum analyzer and other lab equipment. The body is machined from stainless steel, the pin receptacle is gold-plated copper-beryllium and it is using very interesting dielectric.
The center dielectric is made of a small plastic disc with 6 dead holes - 3 on each side of the disc. In each set the holes are at 120 degrees and the two sets are offset by 60 degrees from each other. As a result - the center pin receptacle is supported only by 6 very little plastic spokes. The holes are fairly large leaving mostly air around the center. This is as close as it gets to DIY air dielectric while still have strong mechanical support for the pin receptacle. I think the reason for the "dead holes" is to stop dust and contaminants getting inside.

For the OPEN I just cut the center pin flush to the dielectric. The dielectric disc has a brass sleeve in the center. A dab of solder fixes the pin receptacle to the sleeve. The disc is not made from teflon and soldering time and temperature should be minimal. One can easily measure the distance to the reference plane and calculate the offset. The stray capacitance and losses are minimal due to the dielectric's construction.
The SHORT is made by soldering a "washer" of tin-plated brass to the center pin. When the back shell (the gold plated part) of the connector is screwed in place it presses onto the outer part of the washer and makes the electrical connection to the connector's body. I left the rest of the center pin intact - it goes inside the teflon dielectric of the back SMA part for additional mechanical support.

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