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Silicon Investigations Krytron Pulse Power Switching Tubes

Krytrons are used in many high voltage pulse forming applications, including laser triggers, pockels cell triggers, exploding bridge wire detonators, high speed photography, and particle accelerator experiments, among others.  They have been largely replaced with solid state devices in many applications, but the replacement devices have trade offs, including larger size, environmental sensitivity, jitter, and reliability issues that may make them difficult to implement in existing systems.

Krytrons were made by EG&G (now Perkin Elmer).  They are no longer in production.  However, they do appear on the surplus market occasionally. They are getting harder to locate if you have a system that was designed around them.  The most common type is the KN-6, but the table below lists most of the other types that are available and their parameters.

Silicon Investigations is in the process of determining if there is a current market for these tubes as repair spares, or, possibly, for new designs.  If you have found this page, you are helping us determine if there is a significant enough market to justify a program to manufacture them again.  If you would like to send us email regarding your potential use, number of units annually, and particular model of tube, we would appreciate it, as this will give us the information to make the decision to investigate the feasibility of this venture.

>UPDATE: Silicon Investigations has begun pre production of  a tube similar to the KN-6 Krytron.  Anyone interested in quantities of this tube, please contact us for more information and specifications.

The following information on the Krytron and Sprytron and their applications may be of interest to anyone who has found this link.

Nanosecond Switch Development
Non cyanide gold plating process for switch tubes
SPICE Macro Model of a Sprytron with MOSFETs in avalanche mode
Pockels Cell and Pockels Cell Driver (EO Qswitch)
Pockels Cell information
Sub Nanosecond Jitter Operation of Marx Generators
Laser pulse selection with Krytron Triggered Kerr Cell
Problems of Short Pulse, Low Energy, High Repetition Rate Lasers
High Power Doubled and Tripled ND:YAG Lasers

The Krytron

A krytron is a four element (cathode, grid (trigger), anode, and keep alive) gas filled cold cathode switching tube. Examples: EG&GKN22   EG&GKN6.

The control grid in these devices actually encloses the anode with a small opening at the top.  Conduction occurs through this hole.  The gas in the tube provides ions to neutralize the space charge allowing a high current to be obtained at a lower voltage than otherwise possible.

Krytrons contain a small amount of radioactive nickel (Ni-63) which is a beta particle emitter.  This aids the initial glow discharge formation between the cathode and the keep alive electrode.

Krytron Tube SchematicKN22 Connections

 

Type
Anode voltage (kVDC)
Trigger volts (V)
Current (A)
Pulse
Min
Typical
Max
Max peak
Typical peak
Keep alive (µA)
Duration (µS)
Delay time (µS)
Jitter (µS)
Repetition (PPM)
Life (x 107)
KN-2
0.3
2.0
4.0
200
500
40
50
5
0.20
0.02
61
1
KN-4
0.4
1.2
5.0
250
2500
270
150
10
0.30
0.03
1
0.0025
KN-6
0.7
2.6
5.0
250
3000
715
50
10
0.25
0.03
1
0.0035
KN-6B
0.7
2.8
8.0
250
3000
715
50
10
0.50
0.05
1
0.0035
KN-9
0.3
1.5
4.0
200
500
1
50
5
0.20
0.02
24x103
1.5
0.4
4.0
5.0
750
100
80
300
0.04
0.04
0.005
3x103
2


Krytrons are a highly specialized variety of cold cathode trigger tube. They were one of the first products developed by the US based company EG&G. The Krytron has 4 electrodes, and is filled with a noble gas (the bulk gas is krypton, with several Penning gasses) at low pressure. A Krytron is distinguished among cold cathode trigger tubes for a variety of reasons.

The Krytron is designed to switch moderately high impulse currents (up to around 3kA) and voltages (Up to around 5kV) in an arc discharge mode, compare this with the usual glow discharge of the standard trigger tube.  Also, and perhaps more importantly, the Krytron is able to turn on this arc discharge very rapidly, the reason being that it relies on an already present plasma to facilitate the conduction path, rather than waiting for the plasma to be formed as a result of priming etc.  This plasma is created and sustained by a keep alive current between the keep-alive electrode and the cathode of the device. When the trigger is applied under the conditions of a high anode to cathode voltage, this plasma forms an easy path for the main conduction between anode and cathode.

The fact that a conduction path is already established prior to triggering makes a huge difference in the commutation time of these devices compared to standard cold cathode trigger tubes.  Commutation times below one nanosecond are achievable with Krytrons and the time lag between application of trigger and the commencement of switching may be less than 30ns with an optimized driver circuit.  (Note this delay is largely due to the fact that the ionized path will need to spread from the keep alive terminal to the anode of the device).  Compare this delay time to that seen in the standard trigger tube which is dependent upon many environmental factors and typically 3 or 4 orders of magnitude greater.  Note that the variation in time delay exhibited by the Krytron is almost totally independent of environment, however the time delay may be reduced up to a point with increasing trigger voltage.  Likewise the commutation time is generally decreased if the rise time of the trigger pulse is also decreased. Given identical trigger pulses however a Krytron will have a very similar time delay from one shot to the next.  This variation is known as jitter and may be less than 5ns in optimal circumstances.

A Krytron contains a source of beta radiation, Ni-63. The quantity in each device is less than 5 microcuries and presents no significant hazard. Usually the source is pulse welded to a piece of Nickel wire that is in turn welded to one of the electrode supports.  The purpose of this source is to increase the reliability of the krytron by aiding the formation of the initial glow discharge between the keep alive and the cathode.  This initial keep alive current is very much subject to environmental factors such as are seen in the formation of the glow discharge in standard trigger tubes, such as the hydrogen thyrotron. It is for this reason that a radioactive priming element is used, much as in the priming (thermal or ionized gas) source employed in a standard trigger tube (which is also occasionally a radioactive source).

Krytrons typically come in a small glass envelope somewhat similar to a neon indicator bulb with more leads.

Krytrons require a high voltage pulse (500V to 2kV) to be applied to the trigger electrode to fire successfully. This pulse is almost always generated by a pulse transformer fired by a capacitor discharge in the primary of the transformer (rather like a simple xenon strobe tube firing circuit).

The krytron often has only a short life expectancy if used regularly (often as few as a couple of hundred shots). However when used within the appropriate parameters and well within the expected life time they are extremely reliable, requiring no warm up and being immune to many environmental factors to a large extent (e.g. vibration, temperature, acceleration).

These properties, combined with the small size make the krytron ideal for use in the detonating circuitry of certain types of missiles and smart bombs. The krytron may be used directly to fire a high precision exploding bridge wire, or alternatively as part of the triggering circuitry for a triggered spark gap or similar ultra high current triggering device as used in exploding foil slapper type detonators and larger EBW (expolding bridge wire) circuits.

Krytrons are used in firing circuits for certain lasers and flash tubes and also in some pulse welding applications, often as triggering devices for other larger devices such as Thyratrons and vacuum spark gaps. They are also used in medical high power ultrasonic applications, such as kidney stone smashers (lithotripters).


Please email sales@siliconinvestigations.com  with any questions.

 

Last Modified July 19, 2014
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 2004-2014 Silicon Investigations, Ltd. Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.



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