A discussion about the decisions that engineers need to make when selecting electronic components for space missions.
- Balancing performance and risk, as well as costs, in mission design
- Upscreening and qualifying electronic components for use in space
- How the value chain (from wafer fab to assembly site) impacts the final design
- The future of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) usage in space missions
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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 today's episode. I'm joined today by Michele Pergola product manager at Dimac Red. Dimac Red is a global professional sales organization with a focus on providing high reliability, electronic components for the space.
And in today's episode, we're going to talk a little bit about how to enhance the procurement of such component across the whole supply chain. Really so Michele great to have you here. Is there anything you'd like to add to that introduction?
Michele: Thanks for inviting me, Hywel. And, um, no, it's everything fine you perfect.
Hywel: Let's get into the topic today. Now the space mission designers, constantly trying to, you know, get the highest cost of performance ratio that they can for components and engineers need to kind of keep the risks low. And we all know how difficult that is in the space applications. They will need to ensure high quality and they look to also purchase it lower costs, particularly for NewSpace missions, where volume is key, and you have smaller teams, potentially a smaller companies.
What do you think of some of the important considerations for engineers who look into balance these aspects, this risk, quality, and cost when they're selected and the sort of components that Dimac Red provides?
Michele: Well, this question will open up a lot of consideration and insight to be done. Then a self-contained answer is not easy to do, but I'd say that, um, can be resuming in a single word that requirements, every decision, uh, selecting components must be take into account the requirements.
This is the baseline to start every discussion with engineering and evaluate the best balance for risk, quality, and cost. Of course, uh, the requirements, uh, depends on many variables, like the mission profile that includes orbit. Well, the mission will be performance, the lifetime, and the many others as you know, engineering like live is always trade-off.
But since we are speaking about NewSpace mission, so usually the involved with low orbit and short lifetime, the use of COTS or downgraded Rad-hard components is allowed. So I think that for critical subsystem, the use of rad-hard components is almost mandatory but anyway, redundant configuration with the control design that limits catastrophic errors.
Some engineers are not use it to space design think that they can just exchange cards with rad-hard without consequence, but many aspects should be taken into consideration. As you know, space environment is quite different from earth environment and many things can go wrong without possibility to fix your system in-orbit.
What I'd like to advise to the engineers is not considered just the downgrade components available to the market. It is to consider a full list of a downgraded components that are available to the market, right now, these devices are electronic components they designed it for space, but they don't go to all the space qualification flow that makes them really cheaper because usually they are expensive because all the qualification flow they have to perform.
The, so the mix of a plastic package instead of ceramic and reduce its cleaning flow makes the radiation hard the downgraded components up to 80% cheaper than usual spaced grade part. But from my point of view are more reliable than cost wise, better than upstream without the risk of handling all this.
Hywel: You mentioned there, the qualification flow. And there are, as we know, there are various different ways in which engineers qualify components, depending on the mission, the volume, the et cetera, risk levels, as you put it, the requirements, which is so important, what approaches to sort of qualify and, or screening components, do you think, make sense or, or clickable in different kinds of scenarios, you know, based on your experience.
Michele: In this year, the thing the space industry has so many different scenarios and sometimes scenarios vary during the design phase. So it's quite common that that designer start from an idea on a, some specs, and then they ended up to face the reality of the market availability, time pricing or quality level mismatch with selected component.
So in general, I'd say that there are two baseline situation, uh, from one side, uh, the institutional program financing and driving by space agencies, like for example, ESA in European union and NASA in US and the fast-growing the other side of the fast growing market of NewSpace driving by private funds where the cost savings is a crucial point more than a for institutional program but institutional program, usually they are more demanding and looking more the harsh environment part of the space, for these reason that often the engineer must use qualified components or components that go to qualification process.
These makes, of course the project more expensive and give to the designer a limited choice of components. These components and related design are for sure more reliable. And most of the time exceed the design life. Um, a study that I saw recently made in 2019 in US call it the satellite lifetime study show that 80% of military and civil in the U S satellite and 75% of commercial satellite exceeded their design life.
Uh, with that, I want to say that maybe this additional space. So it was usually really conservative requirements. If this is bad or wrong, I need to do the consideration. But for sure, something like the ESCC qualified components or in a European union or MIL standard in US is something needed to have guarantee that electronic system will be active in deep space and for a long time.
From the other site, there are NewSpace project that usually are less demanding in terms of requirements because of the short lifetime orbit position, is opened up new possibilities where different approach from the classic qualified components and testing is possible. And that you can say make sense in order to be able to not I'd say shoot the bird without bazooka, because sometimes I think you're that standardize and have the standardization of the screening and test for COTS and downgraded components is needed in order to give some insurance to the engineer that should choose the parts.
Now today, the trend is to use an automotive-like screening flow and the look into editing each of the components. But a space agency are starting to work to give off each other guidelines in order to guarantee a minimum of each level for these components, use it in space in your space, mission and I think that this could be the way to go.
Hywel: You've touched a couple of times on the differences or the relationship between downgraded rad-hard components and upgraded COTS components. Could you maybe give us a couple of examples of where one category is more beneficial than the other, or more attractive than the other?
Michele: Like you said, the chain beyond electronic components on it's values and why for this reason for space components usually ask it traceability to guarantee reliability.
This is not happening with commercial components, but we do not need to forget that also in your space mission of subject to space environment that is not like hurt. So many other aspects should be considered. And for sure the effect of radiation on the components is crucial. There are additional resistance of the components depends mainly on the technology of the device and partially on the production batch.
It is an intrinsic of the device technology, just a quick resume for those who are not familiar with these, there are two main radiation tests for electronic components, Total ionizing doze tests that depending on technology and component, that informant high-low intensive and unanswered low-dose rate. These radiation test is based on the accumulated energy that the device can tolerate in the junction without significant degradation of its electronics physical performance. The other tests for radiation that should be performance single event effects test. These tests are also destructive and the behavior of the components depends only on the technology.
These tests are not sensitive to the different manufacturing lots. Now we have any way for NewSpace mission. We have any study of about 20 years that you space co-locating the NewSpace at the beginning of 2000. So we have some data on the behavior, of COTS in space, but here comes another problem to the COTS.
The product cycles are short while space project lifecycle is quite long. And need to rely on component that should be manufactured for many years. So also space heritage do not last for long because the production changes on commercial components. So in short, I'd say yes, I think that it works to upstream commercial components if you do not want to use downgraded rad-hard components.
Hywel: Now as more and more of the NewSpace missions, try and at least to go beyond low earth orbit turn, you know, we've seen various examples of that. Uh, radiation considerations for devices, uh, uh, becoming more prominent because of obviously the changing nature of the, uh, operational environment that they face.
Will upscreening COTS systems, you know, to higher doses, be a viable option for, probably smaller lifetime missions, like maybe a two week lunar surface mission, for example, or do you think such approach comes with too much risk?
Michele: Uh, yeah. In general, these COTS versus downgraded rad-hard parts is something that, a topic that they face many times speaking with buyers in engineering, from different companies.
Because it's becoming more and more, a crucial point. And now that space electronic manufacturers trying to enter into your space and that with more and more products. So I define, uh, from a quality point of view, the upstream COTS and approach down to top wide downstream of the rad-hard parts and approach top-to-down.
And many electronic space manufacturer I work with, they have embraced this approach. So packaging, the class I space grade components into plastic package and using an automotive, like flow. These, uh, like I told you before, reduce a lot of the costs and make it more appealing from the cost point of view, compared to the upstream COTS.
A typical example that I can do is the plastic products from a readiness. Uh, that, um, in this case, we are speaking about our management device, like a battery controller, the downside drivers. So to reference, everything related and parts that are used at the critical power supply subsystem of the project.
And these are parts that are designed for space and place it in a plastic package. And without a user test flow, in this case, they also created that intermediate they're shown like in plastic. But with that QMLV qualification. So that save the cost and some tests and they really the ceramic package, but a more reliable quality.
Another example that I can give you is that for example, microcontrollers, again, they sign up to be Rad-hard at a technology level and are they offer from QMLK qualified part down to every plastic MCU? The main point I'd like to highlight is that these devices are designed for space. These means that the die inside the packages that are labelled from radiation point of view differently from the COTS components.
If you are asking to me, would you choose an upgrade COTS or downgraded device? I stay with second. The reason is quite simple, COTS not to come for free as that cost that you have to play is upfront and you have to take care of many aspects and the risks drop rate, and you have to buy in quantity. The downgraded components have designed for space that is basically the same of the rad-hard full grade the space part and that then the, the flow, the price nowadays is comparable without the risk of performing the upgrade.
Hywel: Finally then, I wonder if you could just give us a little bit of a prediction, uh, for this aspect of the industry for the next few years. Particularly how you see risks, quality, and price evolving, these trade-offs and these balances evolving the judgments and decisions that engineers have to make when it comes to cots components in for NewSpace missions.
Michele: Yeah. I think that the approach that was taken until now for bringing COTS to space was not as reliable last that deep space, but both NASA and ESA started programs to create a flow, to standardise COTS screening, in order to be used, used in their official programs.
These of course will increase I think, a bit to the cost, but we will put the use of COTS under more regulated than reliable part, but this is happening for COTS and for rad-hard plastic components that they want to remind that space agency wants to own institutional programs most of the time.
They are creating specifications like the ESSC 9000 B. From ISA or the class B introduced by NASA. ESA will for sure help in spreading the use of COTS components in space, but with more reliability and these, we have the use of these components in mission that go beyond the low earth orbit.
So, yes, I think that, uh, with the, uh, right standardization and design for space, the cost will be also used for this kind of niche. But, uh, I, uh, like I said, I rely more on downgraded development.
Hywel: Brilliant. So the choice will be there. And again, it's back to where you began really back to the requirements for the mission.
Michele: I think that, um, the standardization of the COTS for space, when we increase a bit, their price, we will see our meeting point between the upgraded qualified COTS and that downgraded rad-hard part. So they will meet in the middle. Let's say this is clearly a good deeds for the designer because they increase their choice. That became much wider. And, um, and also the average cost of mission, like even at them. And then we'll. But at the same time, the reliability will be still good enough. I think that this is, uh, what is going to happen in the short term?
Hywel: Well, that's fantastic. I think that's a really good place to wrap up. Um, it's been really interesting to gain your insights on the use of, you know, cuts versus rad-hard components and all the different qualification testing and engineering considerations that go with such choices. Um, so yeah. Thank you very much for sharing these insights with us today.
Michele: Thank you for having me and to satsearch team.
Hywel: To all our listeners out there. Please remember you can find out more about Dimac Red and the full portfolio of components and products that they supply at satsearch.com. You can also use our free request service to request technical details, documents, company introductions, quotes information on lead time and or export controls or anything else that you might need for trade studies or procurement purposes.
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.
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