A discussion about how to select, qualify, and integrate the most suitable electronic components for a NewSpace mission or service.
Texas Instruments is a global manufacturer of semiconductors, integrated circuits, and other electronic components, with headquarters in Dallas, Texas, in the US.
The company has a suite of products for the defense, aerospace, and space sectors, and in this show we talk about how NewSpace engineers can balance risk, quality, and price during component procurement. We discuss:
- How engineers can get the highest cost-to-performance for electronic components
- Approaches to qualifying parts and components to improve mission integration
- The effects of the value chain, from wafer fab to final assembly, on risk and quality
- The potential for adapting and utilizing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO)
You can find out more about Texas Instruments here on their satsearch supplier hub.
And if you would like to learn about the space industry and our work at satsearch building the global marketplace for space, please join our weekly newsletter.
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The Space Industry by satsearch - sharing stories about the businesses taking us into orbit.
We delve into the opinions and expertise of the people behind the commercial space companies of today, who could become the household names of tomorrow. Find out more about the companies and technologies discussed on this show at satsearch.com.
Hywel: Hello everybody. I’m your host Hywel Curtis. And I’d like to welcome you to the space industry by satsearch, where we share stories about the companies taking us into orbit. In this podcast, we delve into the opinions and expertise of the people behind the commercial space organizations of today who could become the household names of tomorrow.
Before we get started with the episode. Remember, you can find out more information about the suppliers, products, and innovations that are mentioned in this discussion on the global marketplace for space at satsearch.com.
Hello, and welcome to the episode today. I’m joined by Michael Seidl, systems engineer for space applications at Texas instruments.
As you probably know, Texas Instruments is a global manufacturer of semiconductors, integrated circuits and other electronic components. And has headquarters in Dallas, Texas in the US as well as a headquarters in Germany.
The company also has a suite of products for the defense, aerospace, and space sectors. And today we’re going to talk a little bit about how NewSpace engineers in particular can balance risk, quality, and price, those three key elements of any machine during component procurement. So thank you for being with us here today, Michael, is there anything you’d like to add to that introduction?
Michael: Thank you. I think you did a wonderful job. Thank you very much for having us.
Hywel: Let’s get into this topic. Now, this is quite an interesting area and an area of challenge that most teams have to consider.
The NewSpace team is usually looking to get the highest cost of performance for components. Engineers want to keep risks low, you know, have high quality and purchase at costs that are suited for their needs. What do you think are some of the most important considerations for engineers who are looking to balance these three elements, risk, quality and cost, when selecting components for new space missions.
Michael: Contrary to the traditional space market in NewSpace cost is the, the fundamental requirement. Of course. So the total bond must really stay here below a certain threshold to allow for positive business case of the mission overall, fully qualified space parts as they are required for the GEO or deep space missions are simply not affordable in many cases. And in order to meet the cost targets, the manufacturers are then looking to adopt COTS parts and thereby assuming probably more risk for their mission that they really want to. And in response to this, TI has introduced its space enhanced plastic product for you, the space EP.
So space EP products address all the aspects of space requirements and make only very conscious compromises for the new space market to enable really the greater affordability. So, let me highlight a couple of items of the Space EP products. So there’s first of all right, it’s a real space product meant for space. Of course, it comes with a certain level of radiation hardness. So at least for 20 krads TID for every lot acceptance test, there’s a one-time characterization for at least 30 krads TID. And the SEL characterization goes for at least 43 meV. For the material usage as is a real space products portfolio, there, we are not using any copper bond wires.
All products we’ll have gold bond wires inside. There is no heighten implemented. All the lead finish will be done with nickel, palladium gold or any other finish that does not have puritan insight to avoid the 10 risk of problem. And it also uses the enhanced mold compound to assure there’s low outgassing. And there’s also a very low moisture observation.
And for the general robustness, it of course covers the temperature range from minus 55 to plus 125 degrees Celsius. There’s also an extended qualification test for each assembly, lots, including the hast and also temperature cycling. Further we’re using for these products, a controlled baseline with only one way for fab, one assembly site and one material set.
And then in addition to all these also, the surveillance product life cycle, as it’s typically needed in space applications, and for each of the products, we also provide the vendor item drawing the VID on the DLA website. So is there really a true space offer just as the lower cost? And so it’s bridging the gap between the commercial or the COTS devices and the fully space qualified, many times ceramic package device.
Hywel: And so that’s a really clear example there of the sort of weighing up the different factors that engineers are required to do. Now you touched briefly on the qualification there of the material, and there are obviously various different ways in which end engineers can qualify components that which depend on the mission, the acceptable risk level, that the volume of components being used.
What approaches to sort of screening and qualifying components do you think makes sense in the different sorts of scenarios, that you’re dealing with TI customers?
Michael: I think there is the very first, most important question customers really have to answer for themselves. This is how much risk are they willing to accept for their mission and also what actions they want really to take, to mitigate it, especially for the higher volumes. So if you’re talking about hundreds or more of devices, they need, then upscreening Clearly comes to mind. However of screening at the component level is a challenging thing. And for a number of reasons, right?
There’s first, you have to get all the parts from the same lot as there can be a lot of variability in terms of radiation performance, from lot to lot. Within the same lots, then you need to do further acceptance testing as they can be radiation variability within the same lots, still from wafer to wafer and from dye to dye and it can take a long time to find a part that really meets the mission radiation profile and the cycle time for radiation testing can be long. So you might end up testing three to five different part numbers to find one that really works for you.
So it can not only be very expensive to do the upscreening but it can also be very time consuming. And further then designers must really aware that space qualification, it’s not only about radiation hardness tests, right? There are also many other reasons for failures in space. That must be mitigated by the correct packaging and material decisions.
So many COTS devices will really exclude themselves from being a viable option for space as they’re simply not built the right way for it. Let me give you an example. So one of the main reasons that the plastic packages have been slow to be incorporated in space systems is that the packaging material is an organic mold compound and that can absorb moisture and outgas organic compounds.
So the moisture observation can result in a reduced reliability and lifetime of the product while the outgas constituents, they can condense on other components, contaminating them and it impacting their performance. So that’s a major problem for the sensors, especially for the imaging sensors.
And in response to that TI Space EP products, they are plastics, right. But they are using a robust mold compound. And that is really also tested for outgassing susceptibility and meeting the NASA standards. And finally another important criteria here for upscreening, upscreening means that the parts will be monitored for functionality during and after the radiation test.
The semiconductor vendors now can take advantage of their comprehensive test programs that are part of their general product development and manufacturing efforts. So everything is in place there already. And except for rather simple products, the test houses to typically not have that convenience and the ability to perform testing with the full coverage as it would really be.
So for highly complex devices, I would say it becomes fairly impossible to verify that truly no damage has happened to the device during any of the applied robustness tests, without access to the original test methodology of the vendor. I think it’s really one of the most important items that the test coverage really has to be fully met.
Hywel: Well, I wasn’t aware that the radiation protection could differ within lots, you know, between labs kind of make sense, but within less significant investor, that’s a major issue. If the impact of a lack of testing on those lots or the lack of acceptable radiation protection is that outgassing causes the component to affect the other components around, it can have a critical failure quite early on in the mission, you know, so that’s great.
Thank you. I wonder if you could then move on to provide an, a bit of an overview of some different NewSpace scenarios where some of these specific qualification approaches will be more applicable to teams; the alternatives, you know, how do they weigh up, which processes to follow, which are not so effective?
Michael: Overall TI provide seven major classification levels. And let me explain those seven levels to our listeners. The first two are called commercial and automotive, and those two are probably the most cost competitive, and they’re really tailored towards all the high volume applications and a flexible supply and guarantee supplies is a key concern.
And the way this flexible supply is created is that each of these products here do typically have multiple manufacturing site options. And for each of the production steps, even though, even from the wafer production and to assembly, and also the packages can use materials, they shouldn’t for space like using metson or copper bond wires, which are really not recommended for space.
I’d say using these two classification levels for space applications come really with quite some risks. So it’s an a, should only use such products for their space missions if there are certain failure rates of this product is acceptable and any outgassing would not raise any concerns to the components around them and upscreening can only provide some level of risk mitigation.
Of course, what a lot of unknowns remain here. So TI does not recommend to use a commercial or automotive parts for space missions. Then there are three military standards, one called EP which stands for Enhanced Product and uses a plastic packaging and the other called QML Q and QML V which come in ceramic packages, all three targets, the harsh environments and use explicit material sets for increased reliability.
Further all three provide a single controlled baseline, which means only a single for production site and assembly side is used to keep lots of lots variation low however, they do lack any radiation hardness tests. Now should designers use those to upscreen them? And I would say, well, in the absence of any affordable rad-hard component with similar functions upscreening might be a thought here indeed, right?
For, especially for new space applications, at least to get some understanding of the sense of activity of these components towards radiation. However, the remaining concern would be the lot to lot variation and the most likely insufficient verification test capability. In other words, quite some level of uncertainty will remain after upscreening for these parts.
And further, since these military components are more expensive than their commercial or automotive counterparts designers need to analyze. If screening was really pay off versus buying truly space qualified components, then so TI’s recommendation for space is really the two remaining quality levels.
And this is the Space EP and QMLV RHA products, the Space EP quality level targets the LEO constellations, and they provide really a good balance between the robustness, the radiation hardness, and the cost, which is so important for new space and the fully qualified QMLV RHA products are the right choice for any functions that are really mission critical or applications that will be exposed to higher levels or longer durations of cosmic radiation, as it would be the case for the MEO, GEO or deep space missions.
Hywel: You mentioned a couple of times now the assembly process for some of the components, you know, from the idea of this have a single assembly process with, from wafer fab to assembly sites. But when people are purchasing or procurement components deciding between different components, each has a value chain behind it.
And there are many different combinations in which components can be realized within this value chain from wafer fab to the final assembly site of the component, and then into the subsystem, how much of a risk or quality impact can the semiconductor industry in general, you know, have on different batches of components that are produced. At the space engineers, how much should they care about upscreening in this ecosystem?
Michael: Yes, this is exactly the challenge with upstreaming. As semiconductor vendors cannot provide any guarantees on similarity between individual wafer lots with respect to radiation performance. This is the big difference between products created for space applications and those that target other markets, especially for the commercial and automotive market, the supply flexibility is judged most important and much more important than keeping the lots of lot variations in radiation hardness minimal. Actually, it’s not verified at all. And then manufacturing fabs process is, are continually monitored and calibrated to account for drifts over time that impact the electrical performance, right?
That’s what’s really matters in automotive and commercial. All these variations and drifts will be caught during the test and can then be rectified. It will rectify it into the foundry, but radiation performance will also probably vary with that, but for COTS and two, 100 parts, there are no checks to see if the radiation performance is within limits or not.
Therefore you can see quite a bit of variability from fab to fab and also from lots to lots. And I said, in some cases, even from wafer to wafer, so if you’re upscreen you have to make certain that you get all your parts from the same lot. And have a significant sample size across the lots to catch all outliners.
And this is extremely difficult to do when procuring COTS parts choice. You have no idea where they’re coming from and from outside, just like we say, for products, target for space applications, that is very different, right? There is a single control baseline, which means there is a well-defined set of materials used and only one way for fab and assembly site involved.
And for the quality level Space EP and QMLV RHA, there is even an radiation lot acceptance test inserted here. And that really assures that any component leaving the door here is really meeting that the desired radiation hardness.
Hywel: Talking about radiation hardness. I mean, you mentioned the requirements for components that are going to be used beyond low earth orbits beyond Leo missions and these sorts of missions and applications even emerging commercial applications are coming more into view for new space companies. I think they’re more possible and there’s more of a commercial imperative to at least investigate them.
The radiation considerations for devices using those missions are obviously very, very important. In your view, do you think upscreening COTS systems to hide those is going to become more of a viable option for shorter term missions beyond LEO say a two week Lunar surface mission or you know, something in GEO that’s supposed to last for a couple of months. Or do you think this approach makes these missions too risky?
Michael: Let me put it this way. The way I see us as the higher the level or the longer the duration of spacecraft is exposed to radiation, the higher, the risk to experience a failure, of course, and therefore customers ask for the higher radiation test levels for such missions.
So the monetary risk in upscreening for any higher radiation hardness levels increases. And in several ways, first chances are higher that the COTS parts will simply not pass the upscreening and the money and time for the test would be just the lost or one would have to purchase and test components from several lots to finally identify a lot that passes, which of course means much higher cost and higher investment.
And then second if the upscreening was successful, it’s still the coverage of the test program must be taken into consideration only because it passes test houses, verification test. It does not mean that the device does still meet all aspects and parameters as the semiconductor vendor would warrant in its datasheet.
And since the launch for higher orbit is always more expensive. A failure of a component does typically also have a higher impact versus a LEO application. So for higher orbits or deep space missions, TI only recommends full QMLV RHA parts. And the, since volumes are typically low, it is hard to see how upscreening would ever make much sense in such GEO or deep space missions.
Hywel: Balancing those factors of risk, volume and price. And the volume is a key factor. Thank you finally, just to put your predicted hat on, I wouldn’t, if I could ask you how you see this question of risk, quality, and price, this balance of those three things evolving in COTS components in the next, you know, three to five years for new space missions in the industry.
Michael: Yeah, I would say with the arrival of the intermediate quality levels, such as TI’s radiation tolerance, Space EP portfolio, there is less motivation to go with upscreened, COTS product. And I see there’s definitely also a learning curve for both sides. So the design teams will learn about the impact of failing COTS devices in space and get clarity about where they can use and were not. And likewise, semiconductor vendors continue to learn about the exact needs and we’ll be able to further optimize the trade off between required quality level and component costs for their customers. And the introduction of the Space EP is a very important step on this still young journey.
And as the segment keeps growing, we can also expect vendors to optimize the cost per unit as volumes go up the natural semiconductor business. Along those lines, we can then rather expect a decline in the motivation for upscreening of COTS devices as we go through. TI has clearly understood the need for more cost effective radiation hardened products, and brought out its Space EP portfolio accordingly. Designers can expect many more products to be released in near future in this quality level, as well as in the full space QMLV RHA is very convinced that space qualification is done best by the original semiconductor manufacturers. Only the semiconductor vendor has the necessary insights and the ability to control all factors, such as the technology note and design methodology, the used material sets or the manufacturing flow from wafer fab to packaging.
And by applying it’s complete verification methods and test programs. Quality assurance can cover all nuances of potential use case. And last not least it’s simply makes so much more sense to have the vendor run the tests once and support all interested customers with these results instead of having each customer to finance and run his own qualification tests.
Hywel: Yeah. It makes a logical sense. And as we say, the, the balancing that cost is not just about the cost of the component, as you’ve explained, it’s about the cost of testing and the cost of integration and the cost ultimately of, of a failure of a potential failure. So I think that’s a great place to wrap up, Michael.
Thank you. And thanks very much for sharing your insights with, really interesting discussion on testing component choice and covered quite a lot of the behind the scenes information from the manufacturers or vendors perspective as well, which I think is, uh, is really interesting. So thank you.
Michael: Overall so I hope I’ve been able to trigger some further interest in the TI portfolio. So if you’re interested or if you want to learn more about space grade components and technologies, please take a visit to TI.com/space. Or please do also reach out to us. Maybe by the ETE forum, we’re more than happy to hear about what you’re working on and see how we can support you best with our product.
Hywel: Brilliant. Thank you. And to all our listeners out there, please remember you can also find out more about Texas instruments, portfolio of space components at the links in the show notes and on the platform at satsearch.com. And you can use our free request service to request technical details, documents, company, introductions, quotes, information on lead time and export controls or anything else that you might require for trade studies for procurement purposes.
And finally, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please consider giving us a rating and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts today.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Space industry by satsearch. I hope you enjoy today’s story about one of the companies taking us into orbit. We’ll be back soon with more in-depth behind the scenes insights from private space businesses. In the meantime, you can go to satsearch.com for more information on the space industry today, or find us on social media, if you have any questions or comments. Stay up to date, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you can also get each podcast on demand on iTunes, Spotify, the Google play store, or whichever podcast service you typically use.
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