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US DOD developing Cryogenic Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) systems for future Electronic Warfare

Cryogenics is the study of the production of extremely cold temperatures and is a field of science that looks at what happens when materials, whether metals or gases, are exposed to very low temperatures. The range of temperature associated with cryogenics does tend to vary but is usually associated with temperatures that are below -190 degrees Fahrenheit or 123 degrees Celsius..


There are a wide number of potential and actual applications that use cryogenics. For example, as well as mission-critical cooling systems for space and science projects, such as the Large Hadron Collider or the Planck Space Observatory, cryogenics is being used for cold storage and transportation in the food industry; in the prevention of overheating in underground cables and wind turbine technology as well as in aerospace, telecommunications and electronics.


It can improve the performance of the electronics in the form of lower noise, higher speed and increased efficiency. With cryogenic treatment of electronics, gaps within the structure of their metallic components can be reduced, so lowering the artifacts in the electrical current and producing a truer signal and providing better performance and endurance.


Among other attributes associated with cryogenics are that it has been found to extend the life of circuit boards in extreme conditions and that it reduces the residual stress found between the layers of thin film magnetic memory. It has also been found to increase the contact life of relays, circuit breakers and switches. Other benefits include: improved thermal and electrical conductivity, lower operating power, reduction of parasitic losses, diminished chemical and metallurgical degradation, and improved overall reliability.


Many sensors, such as infrared or X-ray detectors, used for astronomical observations or surveillance must operate at very low temperatures. In order to extract the ultimate performance from these sensors it is necessary to co-locate the initial signal-processing electronics with the sensors in the cold environment. Generally this environment is in the cryogenic temperature range.


Cryogenic electronics have been used for increasing the speed of supercomputers, enhancing the signal-to-noise of Microwave and millimeter-wave receivers used in radio astronomy and deep-space communication by NASA, preamplifiers for cell-phone base stations and nuclear magnetic resonance receivers for higher sensitivity and faster data acquisition, gravity-wave receivers, for better signal-to-noise.


Perhaps the most impressive embodiment of this idea was the ETA10 supercomputer, which had its central processor boards (each with about 240 integrated circuits) immersed in liquid nitrogen (77 K or −196°C). The cooling of amplifiers to reduce noise is well established and this has been employed for many years in the scientific community for receivers used in radio astronomy as well as for deep-space communications with distant spacecraft.


Cryogenic electronics has also many military applications such as development of ultrasensitive communications and electronic warfare systems. Superconducting nanowire single photon detector (SNSPD) arrays have many applications; as a fast, high efficiency, low noise detector for quantum key distribution, as a component in quantum computing and for enhanced quantum imaging.

Cryogenic Electronics

The term extreme-temperature electronics is used here to mean electronics operating outside the “traditional” temperature range of −55/−65°C to +125°C. ETE covers both the very low temperatures, down to essentially absolute zero (0 K or −273°C), and the high temperatures from +125°C up to as high as electronics can be made to operate. Generally speaking, the usual motivation for operating electronics at extreme temperatures is to improve the overall performance of a system, by having part of the system—an electronic subsystem—operates outside the usual temperature range. The subsystem itself may or may not have improved performance from operating at an extreme temperature.


“There are two broad reasons for operating electronics at cryogenic temperatures: (1) to improve the performance of the electronics (lower noise, higher speed, increased efficiency, etc.), and (2) because electronics is needed to support a sensor, actuator or other apparatus residing in a cryogenic environment. Some applications may combine both reasons (1) and (2), “says Randall Kirschman, consulting physicist, Mountain View, California.


Improvement upon cooling results from a combination of effects: in general, transistors (field-effect types) exhibit increased gain and speed and lower leakage; also parasitic resistances and capacitances in interconnections decrease, heat transfer improves, and many devices exhibit lower noise.


There have been two main application areas. One is to speed up digital electronics. Perhaps the most impressive embodiment of this idea was the ETA10 supercomputer, which had its central processor boards (each with about 240 integrated circuits) immersed in liquid nitrogen (77 K or −196°C). Another example of cooling to enhance computer performance was the Kryotech Athlon-900. There appears to be no “low-temperature” computer offered at present.


Another successful ongoing area is microwave preamplification. The cooling of amplifiers to reduce noise is well established and this has been employed for many years in the scientific community for receivers used in radio astronomy as well as for deep-space communications with distant spacecraft. Cooling transistors greatly reduces their thermal noise, which is the dominant noise at microwave frequencies.


“Semiconductor-based cryogenic electronics can be as simple as a circuit using a single transistor (or diode) or as complex as a system incorporating hundreds of large integrated circuits. It includes both analog and digital systems, spans the frequency spectrum from DC to 100s of GHz, and ranges in power from microwatts to hundreds of watts.”


“Transistors types include both bipolar and field-effect, using Si, Ge, GaAs, SiGe and III-V semiconductor materials. Cryogenic electronic circuits are used not only in the laboratory, but hundreds have been used “in the field” in practical applications, and several types are available commercially.”


There are a number of ways to generate these kinds of temperatures, including the use of specialised deep freezers or by employing liquefied gases like nitrogen, and at those kinds of temperatures, the impact on materials can be profound.

Cryogenic Electronics Applications

Recently Cryogenic Receivers are being developed to build ultrasensitive radio telescopes like that of SKA, Square Kilometre Array project. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international project to build a radio telescope tens of times more sensitive and hundreds of times faster at mapping the sky than today’s best radio astronomy facilities. Simply put: the world’s largest radio telescope. The SKA is not a single telescope, but a collection of various types of antennas, called an array, to be spread over long distances. The SKA telescope will be powerful enough to detect very faint radio signals emitted by cosmic sources billions of light years away from Earth, those signals emitted in the first billion years of the Universe (more than 13 billion years ago) when the first galaxies and stars started forming.


The future potential applications are

  • Range of electronic systems in spacecraft and surface craft in cold environments, such as on the Moon, Mars and other cold Solar-System bodies;
  • Power circuits associated with spacecraft propulsion systems.
  • Power-conversion circuits coupled to cryogenic or superconducting power generation, management and distribution.
  • Power-conversion circuits for land vehicles or ships that employ cryogenic fuels (for example, liquid hydrogen) or cryogenic motors.
  • Signal-processing systems for instrumentation in cryogenic wind tunnels.


Cryogenic Electronic Warfare Systems

U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems has recently awarded contract to two U.S. research companies to develop breakthrough cryogenic super-cooled superconducting RF and microwave technologies for future tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) systems.


The EM spectrum has become a primary war fighting domain, on par with land, sea, air and space operations. Therefore there is race among all Militaries to introduce innovations in Electronic warfare to counter adversary’s sensors and communications systems while protecting one’s own systems. Before countering adversary’s systems it is required to gather Signals intelligence (SIGINT) by interception of signals, whether communications between people (communications intelligence—abbreviated to COMINT) or from electronic signals from radars (electronic intelligence—abbreviated to ELINT).


The success of future Electronic warfare missions shall require development of many technologies like, fast and powerful ESM processors to handle and track multimode radars in a millions of pulses per second dense scenario, very high sensitivity channelized digital receivers to detect intercept (LPI) radars, phase interferometry DF, amplitude comparison DF and TDOA techniques, Multi sensor data fusion. Data Mining for exploration and analysis on large amounts of data in order to discover patterns of interest.


Signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare (EW) systems require robust, high performance systems to detect and identify the signal of interest in the presence of other interfering signals. The detection of signals requires electronic circuits with high dynamic range, bandwidth and linearity. Cryogenic systems shall enable development of low noise amplifiers of extremely low noise figure that will help in detecting signals of very small amplitudes.


The successful application of the developed cryogenic circuit design and fabrication technologies could open doors to many commercial applications where low noise and high speed of operation are critical, such as RF/microwave front ends in personal communication systems, optical receivers and high sensitivity microphones.


US NAVY awards contracts for cryogenic radio frequency systems

The Navy has awarded separate contracts to two companies to conduct work on potential breakthrough technologies: the research, development, evaluation and implementation of cryogenic radio frequency systems, as well as advanced cryogenic core digital and quantum memory technologies.


Out of the Fog Research LLC,* Mountain View, California, and Hypres Inc.,* Elmsford, New York, were awarded $53,435,866 and  $40,387,367 contracts respectively to provide systems acquisition support, systems engineering, project management, basic research, development, evaluation and implementation of cryogenic radio frequency systems, and advanced cryogenic core digital and quantum memory technologies, exploiting superconducting quantum interference device, tactical signals intelligence systems, and other military platforms.


Navy, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific RFP on Cryogenic Devices

Department of the Navy, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific (SSC Pacific) issued Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Emerging Cryogenic devices, electronics and Systems Program.

(1) Research and development of Cryogenic Radio Frequency (RF) systems including signal detection, conditioning, conversion, processing and storage in the analog, mixed and digital domains;

(2) Research and exploratory developmental efforts involving advanced cryogenic RF chain components (e.g., RF filters, RF amplifiers, etc.), advanced cryogenic signal processing components (e.g., DACs and ADCs), and advanced cryogenic core digital and quantum memory technologies for military RF receiver systems, including, but not limited to, Tactical Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) Systems;

(3) Research and exploratory developmental efforts involving emerging cryogenic RF technologies exploiting Superconducting Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) configured as RF arrays;

(4) Research and development of the design and production of a small scale cryogenic packaging system operating at or below 77K on which cryogenic sensor package can be mounted for use in the direct detection of incident electromagnetic radiation; and

(5) Research and Development for Tactical SIGINT Technology and other military system platforms. The prospective contract(s) will have a three-year base period with a single two-year option period.




Superconductor Technologies Inc. has received a 18-Month Phase I Contract For $7.3 Million From Defense Advanced Research Projects, to develop “Totally Agile RF-Sensor Systems” (TASS).


The TASS program is intended to develop a family of tunable High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) filters with very high-Q values, and to integrate these components into very compact, very low noise, highly frequency selective systems for use in communications receivers. The primary goal of the program is to provide electronic tunability of HTS preselector filters without degrading the very high-Q performance.


The critical military capability is development of tunable filters that can be put in front of signals intelligence (SIGINT) or communication receivers, and even in the active elements of active electronically steerable arrays, with tuning speeds well below one millisecond. There is currently NO technology that is capable of the ultra-fast, yet low-loss notch or bandpass filter capability that is necessary to solve this operational problem.


“The electronically-tuned, high-Q, HTS filters systems we expect to develop in this program will be key enabling technology for future military information dominance missions. Greater sensitivity and range are needed both to strengthen existing systems and enable new capabilities. At the same time, ever more radio functions are being integrated on mobile platforms, causing substantial interference. Tunable HTS receivers offer the means to simultaneously achieve great sensitivity and defeat interference. Simulations indicate sensitivity enhancements greater than 1,000-fold may be achieved.”


Peter Thomas, President and Chief Executive Officer, stated: “I expect the technology developments under STI’s TASS program will directly support advancements in our commercial products. If this project meets expectations, the high-Q tunability may bring a new paradigm to wireless communications systems, allowing new, far more robust, receiver architectures, able to operate in the most demanding interference environments without compromising sensitivity.”


Global Cryogenic Tanks Market Forecast to 2024: Growing Applications in Space Technology & Increasing Spending on Infrastructure

The global market size of cryogenic tanks was USD 5.9 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 8.1 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 5.5% between 2019 and 2024, acccording to report by ResearchAndMarkets


Liquid nitrogen and LNG transportation and storage is the major application of cryogenic tanks in the metal processing and the energy generation industry. Since a major share of the market is expected to be held by liquid nitrogen and LNG, it is considered to have a significant impact on the cryogenic tanks market in the metal processing and energy generation industry segments.


The increasing demand for LNG in the energy generation industry primarily triggers the growth of the global cryogenic tanks industry. However, the steel industry is facing a slowdown due to overcapacity, the current economic scenario in China, and declining oil & gas prices. The decrease in global steel production is hampering the growth of the market.


The consumption of LNG has increased from 644 billion m3 in 1965 to 3,469 billion m3 by 2015. It is expected to increase further in the future following the demand for cryogenic tanks. In addition, improving healthcare services, especially in developing economies, are also influencing the market positively.


The key players in this market are Chart Industries (US), Cryofab (US), INOX India (India), Linde PLC (UK), Air Products (US), Cryolor (France), Air Water (Japan), Wessington Cryogenics (UK), FIBA Technologies (US), and ISISAN (Turkey).



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