The technology industry has set its sights on space as a critical enabler for a host of advanced communications capabilities. Organizations are putting more satellites into space than ever before to enable innovation in communications and defense applications that will support enhanced battlefield intelligence and 5G data transmission.
IT STARTS WITH A TRANSPARENT PARTNERSHIP
One of the largest hurdles to overcome in the space industry is the transactional nature of many electronics manufacturing engagements. For many product types, an EMS service provider is given documentation and asked to build a component or sub-system to those specifications. There are many reasons for this, including protecting intellectual property and compartmentalizing classified design elements.
In this scenario, if the component fails or doesn't meet the system's performance requirements during the OEM's testing, it could be because the original design was unlikely to meet the environmental and physical requirements needed for the rigors of launch, not to mention the extreme temperatures and the vacuum of space. If this failure occurs, the development process starts all over again. The complexity of satellite systems often requires multiple iterations in the development of manufacturing processes.
OEMs can mitigate the risk of delays and cost overruns by working with an EMS provider experienced in space applications that can act as a problem-solving partner. Because today's space applications are often built with next-gen communications or military purposes in mind, service providers must work within the most complex and highly regulated markets in the world. There are hundreds of regulatory and security-based qualifications a provider must meet in order to participate in space product design, engineering, and manufacturing, which is only the entry point for developing the deep, trusting, and transparent partnerships necessary. Selecting a service provider that can prove adherence to these standards is critical for OEMs when seeking an optimal partnership.
ADDRESSING SIZE, WEIGHT, POWER, AND COST
One of the most important factors to understand in developing components or systems for space is size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C). Every inch of the surface area on a satellite matter. OEMs want to add more features and capabilities to their satellite without increasing the payload's size or cost. By understanding the end application for the components or systems they're building, service providers can develop a process to meet the specs and performance requirements while also taking SWaP-C into close account.
To reach the level of SWaP-C and reliability needed for space applications, design, engineering, test, and manufacturing teams must all work in concert. For example, when designing communication components needed to enable powerful and clean RF and digital signals for satellites, test programs need to be created that allow for data collection throughout the process. This data can be used to determine the level of SWaP reduction possible without compromising performance. Applying design for test principles can also help develop test automation and optimization of the manufacturing process used to speed time-to-market.
Miniaturization of components can also significantly improve reliability. When dealing with a circuit board that contains a wide variety of chipsets with more advanced features, you increase the risk of failure by creating more connection points between the chip and board. As you miniaturize the chips, it increases reliability by reducing the number of individual connections necessary. Therefore, miniaturization provides a benefit to both SWaP-C and reliability.
MATERIAL SELECTION AND BUILD QUALITY
Material selection and build quality are also important factors in SWaP-C optimization to ensure components can withstand the unique and harsh environments of space. Extreme heat and vibration are a challenge OEMs need to be cognizant of at launch. Once the satellite has exited the atmosphere and settles into orbit, the temperature drops significantly, which can also have adverse effects on the satellite and its components.
The first challenge in material selection is to navigate the supply chain. It's important to work with a service provider who understands the material options available for space components and systems, as well as the supply chain opportunities and constraints. Sourcing material providers for space applications can be exceedingly difficult because there is a lack of trusted industry partners. Often in more traditional space product development, specific components or suppliers are certified early in the development process, constraining the supply chain further. Working with a service provider who understands these barriers and is flexible enough to work efficiently with a limited list of suppliers is another key consideration for OEMs.
Once material suppliers are sourced, the next hurdle to overcome is selecting materials that fit the application's needs, machining, and proper chemical treatment to meet the optimal build quality and SWaP-C considerations. Material selection is one area where industry knowledge is critical. It's difficult to understand the effects of launch and the void of space have on certain materials until you've seen it firsthand. Working with a service provider with experience dealing with components for space is a major advantage for ensuring reliability. Precision machining is also a service the provider must offer. The ability to meet the stringent specifications and extremely tight tolerances with various metal materials used in space systems such as titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel is a unique capability few service providers can meet.
THE BENCHMARK DIFFERENCE—WHEN IT MATTERS
As an engineering, design, test, and manufacturing provider for a wide range of technology-focused industries, Benchmark is tasked with solving some of the most complex technical challenges in the world. When it comes to developing components and systems for space, the challenge intensifies. Our teams worldwide are diving deeper into partnerships with organizations working to put next-gen communications capabilities into LEO satellites. We have expertise in complex technology enablement and a vast history of working in space to understand what it takes to meet next-gen communications and defense satellite projects' needs.
Throughout our more than 40-year history as a solutions provider, we've worked in and have gained critical experience in highly regulated industries. We've worked hard to meet the requirements and certifications in these industries. Throughout the world, Benchmark facilities hold many military, environmental, quality, and safety certifications and regulatory compliances, which provide us with the clearance and experience to facilitate transparency and trust with our customers.
Benchmark has the experience, equipment, and talent to take on the most complex challenges, whether on the ground, in the air, or in space. To learn more about how Benchmark can help customers enable advanced communications technologies in space, visit bench.com/space.