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In Space, There’s No Space

This December marks the 15th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS).

In other space-related geek news, China just soft-landed a probe on the moon and released a rover on the surface, and Iran launched its second rocket and capsule into space, which contained a monkey, and returned it to Earth successfully. Finally, an ancient Martian lake explored by the Mars Rover could have supported life, according to recent reports. (See “NASA says ‘Hands off our stuff on the moon!’ “),

All of this will fuel more efforts for future manned and telepresence efforts. You can check out this EDN blog, “Finally, a practical approach to space,” for more information.

First of all, it takes larger rocket engines and more fuel as onboard weight increases on a mission, so you want to keep weight and size down to keep costs down. For an electronics payload, guidance, communications, and control systems that means high levels of integration.

Techniques such as Analog front ends (AFEs), Power management Integrated Circuits (PMICs), and microcontrollers with lots of analog integrated or lots of analog with a micro integrated are recommended. You also want efficient power — avoid heavy heatsinks and transformers if possible. This means switching regulators, low resistance MOSFETs, and AC-power your circuit without a transformer or a low-cost, non-isolated AC/DC buck converter with no transformer.

What about integrating sensors onto an IC? Be careful about integration/performance tradeoffs.

Don't forget about selecting the right process for small, power-efficient ICs.

And finally, stay current with the changes in the industry to use the best integration strategy for your designs.

We'll be looking at more topics related to space and integration on Planet Analog and Integration Nation, as well as on EDN. In the meantime, let us know what you still find fascinating about space and technology on our message board.

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21 comments on “In Space, There’s No Space

  1. etnapowers
    December 17, 2013

    “First of all, it takes larger rocket engines and more fuel as onboard weight increases on a mission, so you want to keep weight and size down to keep costs down. For an electronics payload, guidance, communications, and control systems that means high levels of integration.”

     

    I think that the need of higher level of integration is related not only to the need of a downsizing of weight and volume but also to the opportunity of integrating more functionalities on the same application board.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    December 17, 2013

    @etnapowers—Right—designers need to pack in all the functionality they can onto the same app board—that will take more creativity and ingenuity, but these are the designers challenges in this space-related market (Pun intended)

  3. Davidled
    December 17, 2013

    ->More Functionalities

    If the goal is to decrease the electronic module's weight and size, adding more s/w functionalities in the same board. Other challenge is to determine whether some specific task is implemented to either s/w or h/w.

  4. Victor Lorenzo
    December 17, 2013

    @Steve, “For an electronics payload, guidance, communications, and control systems that means high levels of integration ” and almost surely new materials.

    I think that it could make sense to make extensive use of flip-chip technologies.

    Do you know what kind of PCB substrate they use? FR4+Cu is incredible heavy.

     

  5. eafpres
    December 17, 2013

    Hi Steve–an area that is possibly interesting in space systems, especially launch systems, is the use of energy harvesting to power various sensors needed for, say, the launch phase.  This could save weight in some applications, a well as be more rugged.  A piezoelectric module generating power for an integrated sensor could avoid things like wires which don't like high G forces and vibration.

    I'm sure you have seen recent press on “Phone Sats”.  While I'm not convinced they are a significant trend, they do represent what integration can do.  A modern smartphone is an incredibly densely integrated system, and supports a bunch of sensors, including acceleration and orientation, location (GPS), acoustic, temperature, photonic sensors, current and voltage sensors (for the power supply) along with sensing in the RF channel.  Starting with such a platform and re-purposing the sensor I/Os if needed gives you a lot in a small package.

    Food for thought.

  6. Steve Taranovich
    December 17, 2013

    @Victor—The problem is not so much how heavy the weight of copper is but what copper weight would work best to ensure adequate heat dissipation. Studies are being done now on the ISS to see if there might be batter materials for pc boards, but they need to be fire-proof.

     

    I think high frequency boards would need special dielectric material as they do on Earth, but I do not know of any special pc board materials for space. I designed a radiation hazard meter for RF radiation that went on the shuttle years ago and it used FR-4 pc boards

     

    Maybe some other readers might have more comments on this

  7. Netcrawl
    December 18, 2013

    @Steve good point, in reality space components have to meet strict requirements regarding qualification, they're tested in thermal vacuum chambers to mimic condition in the space, simulating condition in space places extreme demands on all space components, here we're not just dealing with radiation, space systems requires some highly reliable materials. 

  8. Netcrawl
    December 18, 2013

    @Daej you're the goal is always to reduce size and avoid too much weight in space travel, the reality is there's a strong need to drive down costs while at the same time increase efficiencies and components lifespan. They're packing too many functionalities on board, the whole idea is to place everything in a single components.

  9. eafpres
    December 18, 2013

    @Steve–“went on the shuttle years ago and it used FR-4 pc boards”

    At a previous company we built lab and process analytical (chemistry) instruments.  One was to measure low concentrations of organic contaminants in water (called TOC for total organic carbon).  We were involved in a project testing some water purification schemes and it was decided that one of our instruments would go up on the Shuttle.  The main change to the boards (which I think were FR4 or something even cheaper) was we had to conformally coat them for NASA to approve the box for flight.

  10. etnapowers
    December 19, 2013

    @DaeJ: correct, and the engineers have the responsibility to individuate what new features could be added to the electronic circuitry of the space modules to enhance the effectiveness of aerospace application board.

  11. Steve Taranovich
    December 19, 2013

    @eafpres—thanks for that input. I guess conformal coating makes sense, but it can be a positive addition as in your case or sometimes a negative addition that will hold the heat in if there are any type of relatively high power dissipating ICs on the board.

  12. RedDerek
    January 1, 2014

    Higher integration usually means smaller process technology. This results in more sensitive electronics to radiation. Thus more radiation shielding is requires – and upping the mass again.

    Another, comical thought, in regards to reducing payload size is to start training horse jockeys as astronauts – smaller people, less weight, less food consumption and less mass ejection (bowels).

  13. Rajan Bedi
    January 10, 2014

     

    The space electronics industry is exploiting the benefits of integrated analog, digital and mixed-signal integrated circuits. The following state-of-the-art payload processor uses a number of strategic integrated technologies:

    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/out-of-this-world-design/4419770/Alphasat-s-Champagne-moment

    For those of you who have an interest in space electronics, I have a monthly blog at EDN called, Out-Of-This World Design .

    http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/4406636/Out-of-this-World-Design

    Each additional kg of mass adds $50k to the launch so our industry has to exploit the power, size, mass and reliability advantages of integrating technologies.

    Rajan.

     

  14. Steve Taranovich
    January 10, 2014

    Thanks for the information Rajan! When I visited NASA a few months ago, they were discussing better/more reliable water filtration for the ISS because of the weight of water being so costly to send to the Space Station

  15. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    China just soft-landed a probe on the moon and released a rover on the surface

    @Steve, thanks for the post. Recently China's space agency told that its “Yutu” rover has suffered a mechanical abnormality, just as it was about to be temporarily shut down for the next two weeks during the Lunar night. The rover is dormant during this period because there's no sunlight available to power it. It would be interesting to see if the space agency can overcome this mechanical difficulty.

  16. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    For those of you who have an interest in space electronics, I have a monthly blog at EDN called, Out-Of-This World Design.

    @Rajan, thanks for sharing the link. Really informative indeed. I have bookmarked your link. Looking forward to learn new things about space electronics.

  17. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    you're the goal is always to reduce size and avoid too much weight in space travel

    @Netcrawl, I totally agree with you. I think its better to carry 3D printer instead of carrying lot of other requipments. So based on the requirement things can be printed in space itself.

  18. SunitaT
    January 31, 2014

    they were discussing better/more reliable water filtration for the ISS because of the weight of water being so costly to send to the Space Station

    @Steve, I am curious to know if the existing water filtration methods are not reliable ? Do they always use recycled water or do they send freshwater to ISS regularly ?

  19. Steve Taranovich
    January 31, 2014

    HelloSunitaT—Some small amounts of fresh water are brought up occasinally, but the water filtration system recycles all liquids including sweat and urine. The system is an electro-mechanical system right now and is as reliable as a good electro-mechanical system can be, but one scientist at the NASA Ames Research center told me that they want a more reliable system than they have now. This system will be used on the ISS as well as the trip to Mars in 10 years or so.

    They need a simple system that can last 80 or so years and the human small intestine fits that need. They are developing fabric filters somewhat based on what outdoor campers use right now, but with much better filtration capabilities. .The design will closely resemble the human small intestine when completed.

    The human small intestine can filter out many bacteria and even small amounts of hazardous/poisonous materials that we ingest and it lasts about 80+ years. They are still in development of this technique wihich is far more reliable than the present system because it has no electronics, motors, pumps and mechanical parts.

    Once finished, they will offer this to many countries around the world where people need to walk miles for clean drinking water because their local water supply/wells are contaminated.

  20. Steve Taranovich
    January 31, 2014

    Hello SunitaT—China may need our help, but I am not so sure they want us looking at their design and details about their rover.

    Did you know that there are driving rules that the US has imposed on any manned or unmanned landing on the moon? http://edn.com/design/analog/4402308/Slideshow–NASA-says–Hands-off-our-stuff-on-the-moon- 

  21. Steve Taranovich
    January 31, 2014

    Hello SunitaT—Did you know that both China and Russia have expressed their intent to mine Helium-3 from the Moon and the US is ignoring that elemet? http://edn.com/electronics-blogs/powersource/4410034/Helium-3-and-Lunar-power-for-Earth-reactors. That is a big reason they have a rover up there, besides the military implications

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