The space industry is changing fast and the electronics industry that supplies its components is changing with it. In times past geostationary satellites and exploratory spacecraft were the domain of governments and large-scale technology companies. But that is all changing.
We are seeing a rise in the use of smaller, lighter satellites being built by commercial organisations – and this ‘NewSpace’ industry has different demands. The industry is developing ways of achieving faster, better, and cheaper access to space and spaceflight technologies, increasingly driven by a commercial end point, rather than politics or scientific progress.
This is best demonstrated by the OneWeb project in the USA. OneWeb is developing a constellation of more than 900 low-earth orbiting satellites that will provide low-latency Gigabit per second internet access to anyone, wherever they are on the planet. It will offer lower latency because radio signals don’t have to traverse the 71,500km round-trip to and from a geostationary satellite – the trip that used to cause the off-putting quarter second or so delay on a satellite telephone link.
It says that while cities in developed countries have broadband access, more than 50% of the world, including rural America, Europe and Asia, remain without reliable high-speed connectivity. OneWeb’s goal is to connect every unconnected school in the world by 2022 and provide broadband access to homes, cars, trains, and aircraft, wherever they are. And Oneweb is not the only company looking at using mega constellations of low earth orbiting satellites.
In 2016 Boeing also filed plans with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a satellite system of between 1,400 and 3,000 satellites, while SpaceX is studying a system of about 4,000 satellites.
Whatever comes to pass, the idea of having giant satellite constellations is gaining a lot of momentum. And with them the NewSpace industry is demanding a whole new genre of components. Because of the scale of the satellite production the NewSpace industry wants components that are more versatile and cheaper to produce.
We have just the product. TT Electronics’ Multi-Chip Array (MCA) designs offer a new way to build circuits from discrete components. The MCA offers dramatic improvements in size, weight, reliability and cost compared to the same circuit built from separately-packaged parts.
MCAs offer multiple discrete components in a single hermetic package, whether they are active, passive or mixed.
With up to 16 devices in one package, they are extremely light, in most cases providing a 90% weight saving. This is critical in ensuring lower overall launch and orbit costs. Moreover, the devices themselves are typically 30% less expensive than traditional components.
Another benefit of MCAs is their improved reliability, offering up to 2.5x better mean time between failure (MTBF) rates of an equivalent discrete circuit. We can also take an existing circuit and implement it as an MCA in either a small signal or larger power package.
Because many NewSpace satellites are in low-earth orbit they don’t have to be as resilient as those in the very harsh space environment of a geostationary orbit. However, it is still an inhospitable place to be! The components can be bombarded with high-energy electromagnetic radiation from a solar flare, or be hit with solar plasma being thrown out from coronal mass ejections on the Sun at 700 kilometres per second.
With low-earth orbiting satellites a few hundred kilometres above the Earth the component specification is that they can withstand a radiation dose of perhaps 40-50 kiloRads instead of the 100 kiloRads you might find in the Clarke Belt, about 36,000 km from Earth.
At TT Electronics we are well versed in designing, testing and producing such rad-hardened components. We have semiconductors flying on numerous NASA and ESS space missions, including the Rosetta comet-landing mission and the Cassini probe that recently flew through Saturn’s rings.
We are also due to fly on the ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo mission to Mercury, set to launch in 2018.
TT also has more than 6,000 MCAs flying on ESA’s €5 billion Galileo satellites, which are Europe’s alternative to GPS, providing pin-point timing and accuracy through the project named after the Italian astronomer.
You’ll also find our MCAs on the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft.
TT Electronics is well placed to serve the blossoming NewSpace industry, offering lighter, cheaper and more reliable components to existing and new customers. Email email@example.com to find out more.