5 Tips for Developing PCBs for Aerospace Electronics

September 19, 2018 , in Blog

Most people remember that Sputnik, launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957, was man’s first venture into space. NASA quickly followed with Explorer 1 in January 1958. These were undeniably great achievements that set humanity on a course to explore the final frontier of space. What is much less acclaimed is the launch of Vanguard 1 by NASA in March of 1958. Even more impressive is that Vanguard is still in orbit 60 years later, while its predecessors are long gone. The longevity of this satellite’s journey highlights a critical qualifier for space-based systems: reliability.

Today’s space-based systems, like most earthbound machines, depend on electronics and PCBs. However, the quality requirements and reliability for aerospace electronics are far more stringent than those for commercial electronics products. Aerospace industry suppliers must adhere to specific standards and regulations meant to ensure the quality, reliability and security of PCBs and their components. To meet this high bar, aerospace electronics developers need to employ software, hardware and service providers to ensure that products, as well as processes, are acceptable to the aerospace industry.

Considerations for Aerospace Electronics PCB Development

The aerospace industry is relatively new, having come into existence around the 1950’s. For the most part, the development of space-based systems has typically been long and deliberate. Assuredly, familiarity with the space environment and its effects on platforms, especially those carrying personnel, was warranted. Now, with many successful missions under our belt, confidence in deploying space-rated systems is becoming commonplace.

The still-common long development cycles known as the old space process apply to near space platforms like satellites as well as exploration vehicles. In recent years, there has been a major shift toward much faster development and deployment, fueled to a significant degree by the expansion of the aerospace industry from government-only to commercial enterprises. This shift has produced a new space technology objective of 18 months for deploying satellites instead of the old five-year plan.

Aerospace Electronics Development Essentials

Over the years, electronics systems and PCBs comprising space-based systems have evolved. This evolution has yielded smaller, more capable systems and forced PCB designers and manufacturers supplying electronics to place greater emphasis on device reliability. For developers, this requires software, hardware and services capable of creating systems that can successfully meet the unique challenges aerospace electronics face.

  • Software – The complexity and interoperability of aerospace electronics dictate the utilization of a comprehensive PCB design environment with the capability to run mechanical, thermal and perhaps electrical simulations to reduce development time and ensure manufacturability.
  • Hardware – For aerospace electronics, it is essential that materials are of high quality and able to function in a space environment for extended periods of time. Additionally, it is necessary to optimize component selection to eliminate costly delays and redesigns.
  • Services – The ability to manage the quality of products and processes to high standards, including AS9100, is mandated for all aerospace electronics suppliers. The quality, reliability and security requirements insisted upon by the aerospace industry require you to select a qualified CM partner for your product development.

Tips for Developing PCBs for Aerospace Electronics

Whether you’re a new space technology developer or transitioning from the old space technology model, there are several best practices or tips that, if instituted, will assist your aerospace electronics development:

  • Tip 1: Know which aerospace standards and regulations apply.

Due to the sometimes extreme environmental concerns, the extended deployment times and potential for collisions with space debris there are aerospace industry standards to which you must comply. Understanding which standards apply to your space-rated board design and what responsibilities you have to meet them is essential.

  • Tip 2: Use a PCB design software package with simulation capability.

Although the capabilities of your design software tool are always important, they are even more crucial for designing aerospace electronics. These boards are typically complex and require integration with other boards, which may require multi-board design, simultaneous collaboration and the ability to simulate your board’s response to various conditions. For example, being able to simulate temperature and power variations and perform finite element analyses (FEAs) of strength or hardness is definitely advantageous.

  • Tip 3: Select a CM that can meet your aerospace quality needs.

To meet aerospace industry standards, your CM must be able to manufacture your boards to meet high quality and durability requirements. Remember that the quality control (QC) and process documentation of your CM’s operations are under scrutiny as part of your QMS. Therefore, it is imperative that you select a CM capable of assisting you in meeting all applicable industry requirements for your aerospace electronics.

  • Tip 4: Optimize component selection for availability and reliability.

Using high-quality components that will be available for future production and can withstand the space environment is critical. Steps must also be taken to avoid the use of counterfeit components. These considerations must be taken into account during component selection to ensure that no delays or production interruptions occur, the PCBs will reliably perform for their intended lifecycle and no substandard components find their way into aerospace systems.

  • Tip 5: Know what additional testing is required for your board to be flight-ready.

It is not uncommon for your aerospace electronics and PCBs to require specialized testing, especially to ensure reliable performance in extreme temperature environments or atmospheric turbulence during deployment. Therefore, you need to know what testing is needed and how it should be performed.

The development of aerospace electronics and PCBs requires special consideration and timely action to ensure that your design and manufacturing meets aerospace industry standards. Tempo Automation, the industry leader in custom PCB prototype manufacturing, is equipped to assist you in fulfilling your new space technology needs.

Tempo‘s Custom Avionics for PCB Manufacturing Service

●   Accurate quote in less than a day.●   DFM support from Day 1 of design.●   Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 3 days.●   Manufacturing processes that support your AS9100 Quality Management System Requirements.●   Sources components from the most reputable suppliers in the industry to reduce procurement time and help with component security.●   Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure PCB quality for prototyping.●   Design testing capabilities; including Flying Probe.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information about aerospace electronics or how to incorporate best practices for the development of these devices into your design, contact us.

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