If your parents are considered baby boomers, then you can probably recall them speaking with reverence about the Apollo space program during which man shattered the boundaries of earth and left footprints on the moon. It was almost ten years from the time that President John Kennedy established this goal and it was realized. Certainly, technological development of systems able to achieve space flight is a primary reason for this time. However, probably the main reason was to ensure the astronauts would be able to safely return home. There were nine total Apollo missions to the moon, which ended in 1972 and we have not been back since. That is not to say there have not been advances in aerospace technology. In fact, today we have a permanent presence in low space orbit (in the Thermosphere), the International Space Station, along with many satellites. Launches to low space orbit have become more or less routine and emphasis has been more on space shuttle fleet maintenance rather than space travel and safety.
In aerospace PCB development, quality and reliability may be the first mandatory attributes that your boards must possess.The sheer number of regulations and standards meant to ensure that your boards have these characteristics can offer that impression. And for unmanned space vehicles, this is probably as it should be. However, change is on the horizon, indicating that safety will once again be the highest consideration for orbital and interplanetary aeronautical vehicle development. Let’s take a look at why safety will become increasingly important and the safety standards in place to ensure aerospace PCBs support this requirement.
Why is Safety So Important?
Without a doubt, one of the most exclusive clubs in human history is that of space travelers. According to the Population Reference Bureau, approximately 108 billion people have lived on Earth, including those of us alive today. Of this number, between 536 and 561 (depending on the criteria used) men and women have gone into space. So far, this group, which represents about 5.2 x 10-12 % of humans that have lived, has been exclusively comprised of trained spaceflight personnel or astronauts. However, the times are changing.
Aerospace PCB platform for human cargo
In March 2019, the SpaceX Dragon rocket, shown in the figure above, successfully completed a spaceflight that included automatically docking with the International Space Station (ISS). This successful demonstration of capability is representative of the new space race, which is being driven to a great degree by commercial space deployments and the promise of commercial company personnel and even the general public joining the ranks of space travelers. In preparation for this eventuality, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December 2006 published 14 CFR Parts 401, 415, 431, 435, 440, and 460 Human Space Flight Requirements for Crew and Space Flight Participants; Final Rule that sets rules and guidelines for commercial spaceflight. As stated in the document,
“The requirements should provide an acceptable level of safety to the general public and ensure individuals on board are aware of the risks associated with a launch or reentry.”
This standard is designed to ensure that space vehicle crew and passenger safety is observed for commercial spaceflight, just as it is for government or military missions. Let’s see how your aerospace PCB development can support the intent of these regulations.
PCBA Manufacturing for Extreme Environments - Part 1
How to Ensure Aerospace PCB Safety
System and product development for the aerospace industry is heavily regulated, as are other critical systems areas, such as medical devices and automotive. For unmanned space vehicles, this level of oversight is required, as these systems and subsystems usually cannot be repaired once deployed. For medical devices and automotive vehicles, the potential for loss of life mandates that certain constraints and restrictions be in place. This safety concern is rapidly becoming a part of the landscape for aerospace PCB and electronics development.
As we proceed and increasingly more commercial entities join the aerospace industry, it becomes imperative that board design and manufacturing adopt a perspective that includes safety considerations, especially for mission-critical products that will monitor and control life support and environment systems on space vehicles, as covered in 14 CFR. You can best support these safety standards for space vehicles that will carry humans as crew members and passengers by following the guidelines listed below.
Guidelines for Aerospace PCB Safety
- Make safety the highest priority
The most important aspect of your development should be to design and ensure that your boards are built with safety for the crew and passengers as the highest priority.
- Know and follow all applicable safety standards
If your boards will be used for mission-critical operations, there may be additional specifications and tests that must be met or performed to meet or support the standards set forth by 14 CFR, or other associated regulations.
- Know and follow all applicable quality and reliability standards
Incorporating safety into aerospace PCB development is not a substitute for complying with other requirements, such as those set forth in AS9100, but an addition.
- Ensure that your boards are built by a certified contract manufacturer (CM)
You not only have to adhere to quality and risk management regulatory stipulations, but also ensure that your CM is certified and employs quality control and risk analysis as part of their manufacturing process.
The new space race is proceeding at a rapid pace and the ability to safely transport passengers to and through space is a capability that must be instituted throughout the aerospace product supply chain. To satisfy this need, it is crucial to develop aerospace PCBs that meet and support the safety requirements for orbital and interplanetary manned space travel.
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And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks 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 on aerospace PCB electronics and the safety standards for them, contact us.