The Unique Challenge of Designing RF Filters for Space

by Alfonso Martinez and Jose Raygoza / September 4, 2020

Designing and manufacturing RF filters is a complex process. There are thousands of variations of the component based on the customer's needs, the purpose of the system, and the environment in which it will be performing. It takes a team of engineers with deep experience in various applications to design and manufacture RF filters for space applications.

The need for RF technology in the space industry is growing. With the recent innovations in 5G and advanced computing & communications solutions, Benchmark Lark Technology is seeing an influx of customers who require RF filters that can support new technologies while withstanding the rigors of space.

During the initial design of any application intended for deployment into outer space, the first set of challenges our customers are looking to overcome is those related to size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C). With the development of these multi-million-dollar vehicles, every fraction of a kilogram makes a difference. Each component must be designed to fit within its place and perform a specific task with the available power.

Our designs need to strike the correct balance between performance and power consumption. We address this challenge by leveraging our advanced miniaturization and SWaP-C optimization capabilities. Lark has developed many unique manufacturing processes to ensure our RF filters can meet stringent system requirements without sacrificing performance.

The next critical phase in RF filter design for space applications is the ability to withstand the physical toll of the launch. As you can imagine, the rigors of a rocket blasting off are intense. During the launch, the spacecraft experiences pyroshock, which refers to any long-term, high-frequency, and high amplitude mechanical excitation. Pyroshock exposure can damage circuit boards, dislodge contaminants, short-out electrical components, or cause other negative consequences.

With Lark's background and knowledge in the space industry, we've experienced the effects of the launch on our RF filters and understand the heat treatment and shock resistance necessary for our components to survive during excitation. The ability of an RF filter to withstand this surge is achieved through material selection and rigorous testing. We work closely with our supply chain team to ensure we're selecting the right materials to handle the unique requirements of the launch. We also have in-house testing processes that replicate the effects of a launch on our RF filters to confirm our designs.

Once a spacecraft has reached its desired altitude, many new challenges arise. The temperature changes from extremely hot during launch to very cold in the void of space and can continue to fluctuate with each orbit. Therefore, the RF filter must handle a wide range of temperatures. The craft may also be in space for many years with no way to make repairs in real-time. The mission could be severely compromised or even lost if a part fails. Once again, accounting for these challenges comes down to material selection and testing. Lark has the expertise to design RF filters and other products that meet the various temperature requirements of space travel. We have developed lifetime testing processes to optimize them for a long-term mission.

The vacuum of space also creates a unique challenge for RF performance. Depending on the data it is sending, or whether the satellite is deployed in low-earth orbit or at a much greater distance from earth, it's critical to account for the power necessary to send a strong, clean signal with low-noise thousands of miles. At Lark, we can make design adjustments based on these factors because we've worked at nearly every space level and understand how the size of the filter and the necessary power consumption will change. Performance is always of great concern to our customers. We can help them determine the trade-offs to optimize SWaP-C while also retaining the signal performance necessary to meet the project's demands.

Lark has seen it all when it comes to design and manufacturing for space. We even have RF filter technology sitting on the Moon at this moment. For complex communications needs, we can work directly with customers to design and manufacture RF filters meeting the unique requirements of a wide variety of systems and space applications. RF filters are just one example of our complex design and manufacturing capabilities for space applications, including communications in bands ranging from high-end optical and V-bands to S and L bands and everything in between. Whether your application is a celestial, low earth orbit (LEO) satellite, a mobile terrestrial receiver for broadband or 5G commercial communications applications, or a research or defense application, Benchmark can help manufacture and optimize your application.

Manufacturing RF/Microwave & mmWave Aerospace RF Filters & Components

about the author

Alfonso Martinez and Jose Raygoza

Alfonso Martinez is the President of Operations at the Benchmark Lark Technology's engineering and manufacturing facility in Tijuana, Mexico. Alfonso has worked in the manufacturing industry for over 30 years in various capacities of increasing responsibility in manufacturing, program management, quality assurance, and operations management. Alfonso operates out of Benchmark Lark's San Diego and Mexico facilities. Jose Raygoza is a Sr. Electrical Engineer at Benchmark and an RF engineering and technology expert with more than 14 years experience. His experience spans from RF engineering design and design for manufacturability to software engineering and design. Jose has been with Benchmark Lark Technology for more than eight years. He has extensive experience both in and out of the company working on complex projects for aerospace, defense, and commercial applications.

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