The fastest aerospace vehicle ever

High Speed PCB Design Rules for Aerospace and Defense Industries

When traveling through space, one of the most important attributes for a vehicle to possess is speed. And thus far, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe outperforms all other spacecraft in this area. The chief advantage of speed is that it is inversely proportional to the time required for travel and the loss of resources along the journey.

This simple proportionality is a major driving force for many new electronic system developments for aerospace and defense systems. In fact, minimizing size, weight, and power (known as low-SWaP) is a critical objective for the military that enables it to build lighter and faster aircraft. However, the most critical objective when designing circuit boards for defense and aerospace is to ensure they will function reliably in harsh environments. Accordingly, incorporating this goal alongside good high speed PCB design rules should be prioritized as part of your board development process.

High Speed Board Usage for Aerospace and Defense Applications

In electronics, it is common to find the terms “high speed” and “high frequency” used synonymously. And in some cases, no loss of understanding occurs. However, it is more accurate to use high frequency PCBA to denote boards where actual RF signal frequency values exceed a specific value: for example, frequencies above 50 MHz. A high-speed board, on the other hand, refers to the RF signal transition or the relationship between flight time and rise time, as shown below.

PCBA signal speed domains

PCBA signal speed domains

Virtually all industries use circuit boards that transmit, receive, and process high-speed RF signals. For critical industries such as defense and aerospace, harsh operating environments add to the design and manufacturing requirements for PCBAs. These requirements include mitigating the effects of extreme temperatures, high pressure, vibration, exposure to radiation, and the inability to repair and/or replace mission-critical boards.

For example, electronics and circuit boards in rockets or spacecraft that perform missions outside of the Earth’s atmosphere potentially must contend with the following:

5 Common Mistakes for High-Speed Board Builds

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Possible Hazards for Aerospace PCBAs

  • ➞ Launch
    During launch, rocket engines can reach temperatures up to 3,200 °C, or around 5,800 °F. PCBAs and their components must be protected from these conditions; otherwise, components and boards may melt and become inoperable. Additionally, vibrations can approach 180 dB, which is sufficient enough to shake the craft and the launchpad. In the face of this, circuit boards must maintain their integrity and components must stay attached.
  • ➞ Escape from the Earth’s atmosphere
    In order to overcome the gravitational pull of the Earth and enter outer space, spacecraft must achieve an escape velocity of approximately 11.2 km/s. Traveling at this speed puts a great amount of stress on the vehicle, which can result in heat buildup and vibrations.
  • ➞ In space
    Depending upon the mission, the vehicle may be subjected to extreme temperature shifts. For orbital craft, these conditions may be cyclic; for example, higher temperatures when closer to or facing the sun and colder otherwise. Another significant threat is radiation, which may emanate from solar flares from the sun, galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), or the Van Allen belt. Some of these particles can penetrate the craft; therefore, it is often necessary to use radiation hardened components.
  • ➞ Reentry into Earth’s atmosphere
    Spacecraft face similar hazards upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere as they do during escape.

Ensuring these perils are overcome and do not threaten mission success necessitates rigorous application of precise design rules.

Best High Speed PCB Design Rules for Hazardous Environment Applications

Applications for high speed PCBAs in the defense and aerospace industries include the following:

Defense and Aerospace Applications for High Speed PCBAs

Developing boards for these applications necessitates the optimization of design tasks, including choosing components, selecting materials, and DFM and DFA incorporation to withstand harsh environmental conditions, minimizing electromagnetic interference, and meeting performance criteria. Following the rules listed below will help you consistently achieve this high standard.

Defense and Aerospace High Speed PCB Design Rules

  • Use high performance components that are traceable.
  • Only use components where performance data is available.
  • Do not use moisture-sensitive components.
  • Ensure board materials possess stable dielectric constants at high frequencies.
  • Always minimize trace length as much as possible.
  • Use low profile copper.
  • Employ optimal thermal dissipation techniques.
  • If radiation exposure is possible, employ radiation hardening and/or shielding for space PCBAs.
  • Use PCB pins or other securements for boards in high vibration environments.
  • Apply adequate testing to ensure board integrity and durability.

Following the high speed PCB design rules listed above will support your CM’s efforts to manufacture circuit boards that reliably perform under stringent conditions as defense and aerospace applications often require.

Tempo's Custom Avionics for PCB Manufacturing Service
  • AS9100D and IPC J-STD-001E with Space Addendum certified manufacturing processes.
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Execute your full development cycle from proto to validation, NPI, and low volume production.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFX support, including DFM, DFA, and DFT from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 4 days.
  • Extreme space environment targeted manufacturing.
  • Use reputable components suppliers to ensure quality, security and traceability.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure quality for prototyping.

Tempo Automation is not only the industry’s leading manufacturer of high-quality PCBAs with the fastest turnaround times for prototyping and on-demand production, but also has expertise in building boards for deployment in harsh environments.

Tempo employs a white-box turnkey PCBA manufacturing process that promotes collaboration and transparency between engineers and CMs. This allows us to quickly deliver high-quality boards for both standard and non-standard designs that meet rigorous defense and aerospace industry criteria for prototyping and on-demand production. We also provide downloadable DRC files in Altium Designer, Cadence Allegro, Mentor Pads, other CAD formats, and Excel.

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 high speed PCB design rules for hazardous environment applications, contact us.

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