PCB Design and Development of Commercial Satellite Products

In July 1962, NASA launched the first commercial satellite, Telstar 1, which enabled live television broadcasts between the U.S. and Europe. This was followed in the next month by President John F. Kennedy signing the Communications Satellite Act of 1962. The motivation was to promote satellite development and operation by the private sector. The, after a couple of decades with little significant private sector inroads into the space industry, President Ronald Reagan passed the Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 to pressure NASA to encourage private company participation. At the time, the development infrastructure of designers and manufacturers for space-based systems was not available. Of course, this would soon change.

Today, there are nearly 2,000 active satellites orbiting the Earth, most of which are used wholly or in part for communications. Of the approximately 860 U.S. satellites, 58% are commercial. This tremendous shift from governmental to commercial satellites is a result of technological advances, such as mobile phones, satellite TV and global positioning system (GPS) products. As the design and development requirements for these space-based commercial satellite products are more stringent than for other electronics and PCBs, your choice of contract manufacturer (CM) is more critical. Let’s take a look at the products that comprise satellites and how you can collaborate with your CM to ensure your PCB design and development meet the quality and reliability mandates for commercial satellite products.

Types of Commercial Satellite Products

The essential elements that make up satellite systems are the satellite, receiver and transmitter. The communication path from the transmitter up to the satellite is the uplink, while the downward path from the satellite to the receiver is the downlink. Satellites are used to gather and process information, imagery and data from the earth, space or other satellites. For commercial satellite systems, the satellite itself serves as a relay station that allows for data transmission over large distances that would not be possible for ground-based communications systems relying on line-of-sight transmission. These commercial satellite systems are classified as fixed, mobile or broadcast based on the location, type of ground equipment used to receive the downlink and the type of service provided.

📡 Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) - This service utilizes fixed receiving stations that typically supply the end user. Examples are cable TV, internet relay stations, etc.

📱 Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) - This service communicates with mobile ground systems, mobile phones, ships, fleet vehicles, etc.

🏠 Broadcast Satellite Service (BSS) - This service provides TV or radio broadcasts directly to customers. Examples include DirectTV, Dish Network, etc.

One of the most common commercial satellite system applications is GPS location and tracking. GPS is used for BSS and MSS, as shown in the example below.

GPS tracking system

Mobile Satellite System (MSS) example

Satellite System Devices

Regardless of the type of service, a satellite is responsible for accepting uploaded signals, processing them and supplying the ground receiver. Accomplishing this typically requires amplification, frequency conversion, control and positioning. The devices that perform these functions are a part of the space bar or communications payload. The space bar includes: energy storage and regulation; propulsion; altitude and positioning control; temperature control; structure; and tracking, telemetry, command and ranging (TTC&R) for remote control of the satellite. Communications devices include receivers, amplifiers, switching and control units, multiplexers, antennas and other signal processing units and components. Although some communications devices can be found in ground-based systems, the space environment requires them to adhere to higher quality and reliability standards.

PCBA Manufacturing for Extreme Environments - Part 1

Download Now

Commercial Satellite Products Design and Development

Commercial satellite products and, to a greater degree, satellites themselves, must be capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of launching into space and long-term orbits. These include:

  • Temperature variation - Extreme temperature swings ranging from less than -100°C to greater than 120°C.
  • Orbital collisions - Impacts from space debris traveling up to 60 km/s.
  • Hard vacuum - Lack of air, which can cause outgassing from materials.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation -  UV light can damage polymers.
  • Ionizing radiation - Can damage polymers and affect data integrity of transmissions.

The desire to overcome these obstacles has led to stringent aerospace industry standards for commercial satellite products. These standards must guide your PCB design and development process because of the premium they place on the quality and reliability of your boards to function as intended without requiring failsafe measures like redesign, replacement or recall. To give your PCB the best chance of success, you should take strategic steps and incorporate safeguards into your design and development process to meet standards and prevent contingencies. These safeguards should include the following:

Safeguard Purpose
Perform Software Simulations Perform thermal and stress finite element analyses (FEAs) to assist with component and material selections.
Perform Environmental Simulations Perform wind tunnel and vacuum testing to ensure that boards can withstand the launch and space orbit conditions.
Use high-quality materials Required by the standard. Reduce the possibility of failure due to vibration, temperature variation.
Use traceable components Required by the standard. To avoid substandard components that may lead to system failures that cannot be repaired.
Use certified components from reputable vendors Required by agencies like NASA (i.e. NPSL classified components). However, there is a thrust toward the use of more COTS components and modules to save design and development time and cost.

Tempo Automation is the industry leader in high quality, fast turnaround PCB manufacturing. In addition to providing superior boards, we strive to create to provide the best customer experience for your PCB development, including transparency of our advanced capabilities and processes and unparalleled support from day 1 of design.

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 aerospace design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you want more information on commercial satellite products or how to ensure that your boards meet the stringent requirements for these flight systems, contact us.

The latest PCB news delivered to your inbox.

Search Sign In