A klystron is a specialized linear-beam vacuum tube (evacuated electron tube). Klystrons are used as amplifiers at microwave and radio frequencies to produce both low-power reference signals for superheterodyne radar receivers and to produce high-power carrier waves for communications and the driving force for modern particle accelerators.
Klystron amplifiers have the advantage (over the magnetron) of coherently amplifying a reference signal so its output may be precisely controlled in amplitude, frequency and phase. Many klystrons have a waveguide for coupling microwave energy into and out of the device, although it is also quite common for lower power and lower frequency klystrons to use coaxial couplings instead. In some cases a coupling probe is used to couple the microwave energy from a klystron into a separate external waveguide.
All modern klystrons are amplifiers, since reflex klystrons, which were used as oscillators in the past, have been surpassed by alternative technologies.
The name klystron comes from the stem form κλυσ- (klys) of a Greek verb referring to the action of waves breaking against a shore, and the end of the word electron.
The brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian of Stanford University are the inventors of the klystron. Their prototype was completed in August 1937. Upon publication in 1939, news of the klystron immediately influenced the work of US and UK researchers working on radar equipment. The Varians went on to found Varian Associates to commercialize the technology (for example to make small linear accelerators to generate photons for external beam radiation therapy). In their 1939 paper, they acknowledged the contribution of A. Arsenjewa-Heil and Oskar Heil (wife and husband) for their velocity modulation theory in 1935.
The work of physicist W.W. Hansen was instrumental in the development of the klystron and was cited by the Varian brothers in their 1939 paper. His resonator analysis, which dealt with the problem of accelerating electrons toward a target, could be used just as well to decelerate electrons (i.e., transfer their kinetic energy to RF energy in a resonator). During the second World War, Hansen lectured at the MIT Radiation labs two days a week, commuting to Boston from Sperry gyroscope company on Long Island. His resonator, called a "hohlraum" by nuclear physicists and coined "rhumbatron" by the Varian brothers, is used in 2009 in the National Ignition Facility investigating nuclear fusion. Hansen died in 1949 as a result of exposure to beryllium oxide (BeO).
During the second World War, the Axis powers relied mostly on (then low-powered) klystron technology for their radar system microwave generation, while the Allies used the far more powerful but frequency-drifting technology of the cavity magnetron for microwave generation. Klystron tube technologies for very high-power applications, such as synchrotrons and radar systems, have since been developed.
Klystrons amplify RF signals by converting the kinetic energy in a DC electron beam into radio frequency power. A beam of electrons is produced by a thermionic cathode (a heated pellet of low work function material), and accelerated by high-voltage electrodes (typically in the tens of kilovolts). This beam is then passed through an input cavity. RF energy is fed into the input cavity at, or near, its natural frequency to produce a voltage which acts on the electron beam. The electric field causes the electrons to bunch: electrons that pass through during an opposing electric field are accelerated and later electrons are slowed, causing the previously continuous electron beam to form bunches at the input frequency. To reinforce the bunching, a klystron may contain additional "buncher" cavities. The RF current carried by the beam will produce an RF magnetic field, and this will in turn excite a voltage across the gap of subsequent resonant cavities. In the output cavity, the developed RF energy is coupled out. The spent electron beam, with reduced energy, is captured in a collector.
Two-cavity klystron amplifier
Two-cavity klystron oscillator
The two-cavity amplifier klystron is readily turned into an oscillator klystron by providing a feedback loop between the input and output cavities. Two-cavity oscillator klystrons have the advantage of being among the lowest-noise microwave sources available, and for that reason have often been used in the illuminator systems of missile targeting radars. The two-cavity oscillator klystron normally generates more power than the reflex klystron—typically watts of output rather than milliwatts. Since there is no reflector, only one high-voltage supply is necessary to cause the tube to oscillate, the voltage must be adjusted to a particular value. This is because the electron beam must produce the bunched electrons in the second cavity in order to generate output power. Voltage must be adjusted to vary the velocity of the electron beam (and thus the frequency) to a suitable level due to the fixed physical separation between the two cavities. Often several "modes" of oscillation can be observed in a given klystron.
There are often several regions of reflector voltage where the reflex klystron will oscillate; these are referred to as modes. The electronic tuning range of the reflex klystron is usually referred to as the variation in frequency between half power points—the points in the oscillating mode where the power output is half the maximum output in the mode. The frequency of oscillation is dependent on the reflector voltage, and varying this provides a crude method of frequency modulating the oscillation frequency, albeit with accompanying amplitude modulation as well.
Modern semiconductor technology has effectively replaced the reflex klystron in most applications.
In all modern klystrons, the number of cavities exceeds two. A larger number of cavities may be used to increase the gain of the klystron, or to increase the bandwidth.
Tuning a klystron
Some klystrons have cavities that are tunable. Tuning a klystron is delicate work which, if not done properly, can cause damage to equipment or injury to the technician. By adjusting the frequency of individual cavities, the technician can change the operating frequency, gain, output power, or bandwidth of the amplifier. The technician must be careful not to exceed the limits of the graduations, or damage to the klystron can result.
Manufacturers generally send a card with the unique calibrations for a klystron's performance characteristics, that lists the graduations to be set to attain any of a set of listed frequencies. No two klystrons are exactly identical (even when comparing like part/model number klystrons), and so every card is specific to the individual unit. Klystrons have serial numbers on each of them to uniquely identify each unit, and for which manufacturers may (hopefully) have the performance characteristics in a database. If not, loss of the calibration card may be an economically insoluble problem, making the klystron unusable or perform marginally un-tuned.
Other precautions taken when tuning a klystron include using nonferrous tools. Some klystrons employ permanent magnets. If a technician uses ferrous tools, (which are ferromagnetic), and comes too close to the intense magnetic fields that contain the electron beam, such a tool can be pulled into the unit by the intense magnetic force, smashing fingers, injuring the technician, or damaging the unit. Special lightweight nonmagnetic (aka diamagnetic) tools made of beryllium alloy have been used for tuning U.S. Air Force klystrons.
Precautions are routinely taken when transporting klystron devices in aircraft, as the intense magnetic field can interfere with magnetic navigation equipment. Special overpacks are designed to help limit this field "in the field," and thus allow such devices to be transported safely.
In an optical klystron the cavities are replaced with undulators. Very high voltages are needed. The electron gun, the drift tube and the collector are still used.
Floating drift tube klystron
After the RF energy has been extracted from the electron beam, the beam is destroyed in a collector. Some klystrons include depressed collectors, which recover energy from the beam before collecting the electrons, increasing efficiency. Multistage depressed collectors enhance the energy recovery by "sorting" the electrons in energy bins.
Klystrons produce microwave power far in excess of that developed by solid state. In modern systems, they are used from UHF (hundreds of MHz) up through hundreds of gigahertz (as in the Extended Interaction Klystrons in the CloudSat satellite). Klystrons can be found at work in radar, satellite and wideband high-power communication (very common in television broadcasting and EHF satellite terminals), medicine (radiation oncology), and high-energy physics (particle accelerators and experimental reactors). At SLAC, for example, klystrons are routinely employed which have outputs in the range of 50 megawatts (pulse) and 50 kilowatts (time-averaged) at frequencies nearing 3 GHz.
Popular Science's "Best of What's New 2007" described a company, Global Resource Corporation, using a klystron to convert the hydrocarbons in everyday materials, automotive waste, coal, oil shale, and oil sands into natural gas and diesel fuel.
^ Varian, R. H.; Varian, S. F. (1939). "A High Frequency Oscillator and Amplifier". Journal of Applied Physics 10 (5): 321. Bibcode 1939JAP....10..321V. doi:10.1063/1.1707311.