Engineering the Cosmos: Premier PCB Solutions for Space Applications

Space-grade PCBs demand a partner with expertise in design and materials, supported by a network of manufacturers equipped with the necessary capabilities and certifications. Last week we met up with the Swedish Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna.

Janne Persson and Craig Haywood in Kiruna

Last week we had the pleasure of visiting the Swedish Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna, it’s always delightful to meet fellow space enthusiasts and discuss challenges, changes and needs. When designing PCBs for space, it requires careful consideration of numerous factors to ensure reliability and functionality in the harsh conditions they will encounter. 

“Visiting partners in this dynamic industry is always an insightful experience. The space sector is currently navigating an exhilarating period filled with new developments and increasing demands. As a partner dedicated to empowering compliance, we’ve observed that knowledge of regulatory requirements and experience within specific design, play an increasingly significant role when choosing the correct PCB partner”, says Sales Manager Sweden, Janne Persson. 

Our team of Operations Managers assist our Space Industry partner weekly, we are already a trusted PCB supplier for many advanced Space projects in the Nordic.

“Designing PCBs for space requires selecting radiation-resistant materials, ensuring reliability, and optimizing for weight—each choice crucial for withstanding the harsh conditions of space”, says Operations Manager Craig Haywood.

What are the specific PCB requirements for the space industry? 

As for any other industry IPC offers standards to consider for the space industry as well. They are designed to help PCB manufacturers ensure high quality and reliability, particularly in demanding sectors like aerospace and defence. 

  • IPC-6012 (Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid Printed Boards):
  •  IPC 6012ES Class 3  is also applicable for certain projects.

 

Includes requirements for dielectric thickness, annular ring size, electrical testing, and thermal stress. 

  • IPC-A-600 (Acceptability of Printed Boards): 

Focuses on the visual quality standards for PCBs, including criteria for laminate conditions, plating thickness, and hole registration. 

  • IPC-6018 (Microwave End Product Board Inspection and Test): 

Addresses the specific requirements for microwave frequency PCBs, which are often used in satellite communications. 

In plus to standards, you need to consider what materials to use, various Design Considerations and the crucial fact of compliance in the supply chain. 

Materials: High-reliability applications in space often use materials like polyimide due to its high thermal stability and durability in extreme environments. Materials must also be selected for low outgassing properties to avoid contamination in a vacuum environment. Space environments undergo drastic temperature fluctuations, and the vacuum of space might exert an influence on the properties of materials.
Due to these conditions, it’s important to consider extreme temperatures/vacuum when choosing material types, without compromising performance. 

Copper Weight: Increased copper weight may be used to enhance thermal management and improve the durability of power traces. 

Additional considerations 

Vibration and Mechanical Shock:
Launch and space conditions subject the PCB to significant vibrations and mechanical shocks. Design the PCBs to withstand these conditions.  

Thermal Management:
Implement effective thermal management solutions to dissipate heat, generated by electronic components. This is crucial for preventing overheating in the confined and thermally challenging space environment.  

Power Efficiency:
Space missions often rely on limited power sources. Design the PCB for power efficiency to maximize the operational life of the spacecraft and ensure that the power budget is adhered to.  

Redundancy and Fault Tolerance:
Incorporate redundancy and fault-tolerant design principles to ensure that the PCB can continue to function even if some components fail. This is essential for the longevity of missions.  

EMI/EMC Considerations:
Address electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) concerns to prevent signal interference and ensure proper functioning of the PCB in the presence of other electronic systems on the spacecraft.  

Testing and Qualification:
Rigorous testing is essential to ensure the reliability of the PCB. Select a partner you know follow industry standards for space-grade electronics and perform extensive testing and qualification procedures.  

Traceability and Documentation:
Maintain comprehensive documentation of the PCB design, including materials used, component specifications, and design rationale.   

Environmental Sealing:
Protect the PCB from environmental factors, including moisture and contaminants, by using appropriate conformal coatings or encapsulation methods.   

Compliance with Space Standards:
Ensure that the PCB design complies with relevant industry standards and guidelines. This includes standards for materials, manufacturing processes, and testing procedures.  

Long-Term Reliability:
Plan for the long-term reliability of the PCB by considering factors such as material aging, solder joint integrity, and the effects of prolonged exposure to extreme conditions. 

Why involve us? 

  • We can assist your PCB design according to DFM requirements and demands for space products. 
  • Wide range of technologies including rigid, rigid-flex, HDI & RF & microwaves 
  • Offer EASA, NADCAP and AS9100 approved manufacturing partners. 
  • AS9120 certified. AS9120 helps identify and mitigate risks associated with product safety, counterfeit parts, and regulatory compliance, reducing potential liabilities. 
  • QTA on prototypes. 
  • Be a trusted partner facilitating the exiting phase of prototypes and the transition to full production. 
  • For PCBs for EASA, its crucial to have a partner that can navigating EASA’s regulatory framework requires an in-depth understanding of aviation safety standards and a commitment to meticulous engineering and quality assurance.  
  • We offer transparency and traceability, two factors of the highest importance in any PCB supply chain, however, in highly regulated industries like aerospace and defence, they are not only important but evident for a secure supply chain.
  • A transparent and traceable supply chain with live data and access control. 

Compliance has never been more relevant for the industry, ensure your PCB supply chain is as well.

Would you like to discuss you space related PCB or any other challenges your printed circuit supply chain face, feel free to reach out to us.

Another certification related to the aviation industry, is the EASA Part 21 Subpart G Production Organisation Approval.
Read about it here.

 

 

Engineering the Cosmos: Premier PCB Solutions for Space Applications

Written by: Guro Krossen

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