Air stripline

Air stripline is a form of electrical planar transmission line whereby a conductor in the form of a thin metal strip is suspended between two ground planes. The idea is to make the dielectric essentially air. Mechanical support of the line may be a thin substrate, periodical insulated supports, or the device connectors and other electrical items.

Air stripline is most commonly used at microwave frequencies, especially in the C band. Its advantage over standard stripline and other planar technologies is that its air dielectric avoids dielectric loss. Many useful circuits can be constructed with air stripline and it is also easier to achieve strong coupling between components in this technology than with other planar formats. It was invented by Robert M. Barrett in the 1950s.

Structure

Diagram of the structure of dielectric supported air stripline

Air stripline is a form of stripline using air as the dielectric material between the central conductor and the ground planes. Using air as the dielectric has the advantage that it avoids the transmission losses usually associated with dielectric materials.[1]

There are two basic ways that air stripline is constructed. In dielectric supported stripline, also called suspended stripline or suspended substrate, the strip conductor is deposited on a thin solid dielectric substrate, sometimes on both sides and connected together to form a single conductor.[2] This substrate is then clamped in place between the walls supporting the two ground planes. In this method the strip can be manufactured by printed circuit techniques making it cheap and leading to the further advantage that other components can be printed on the dielectric in the same operation. The purpose of the solid dielectric is mechanical support for the conductor,[3] but it is made as thin as possible to minimise its electrical effect. The flimsy nature of the substrate means that it can easily be distorted. Because of this, the design needs to take account of thermal stability issues.[4] High end designs may use a crystalline substrate, such as boron nitride or sapphire, as the suspended substrate.[5]

The other method of construction uses a more substantial solid metal bar as the strip, supported on periodically spaced insulators. This method may be more suitable for high power applications. In such applications the corners of the conductor cross-section may be rounded to prevent high field intensities and arcing occurring at those points.[6] The insulators are electrically undesirable; they detract from the goal of having a purely air dielectric, add discontinuities to the line, and are potentially a point at which tracking can occur. In some components, there are points at which the lines need to be grounded, either directly or through a discrete component. In such circuits these grounding points can double as mechanical supports and the need for supporting insulators avoided.[7]

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