Understanding the Importance of Risk Analysis for Aerospace Engineering PCB Development

On an episode of NOVA1, entitled “Rise of the Rockets”, current and former aerospace industry professionals discussed the transformation from the olde to the new space race. This included some explanations of propulsion and flight paths for ascent and descent that any layman could understand. Most of the documentary, however, was devoted to discussing successes and the challenges that had to be overcome to achieve them. It was quite apparent that sending a rocket into space is an endeavor with an almost infinite number of risks. In spite of this, the development and launch of commercial rockets have become a reality.

Commercial rocket in earth orbit

Although the majority of space and mass of a space platform is devoted to fuel, these vehicles contain highly complex electronic systems and PCBs that control all aspects of flight, along with communications and onboard systems. Building these systems to perform reliably and withstand the rigors of the space environment requires management of the risks within the development process that could result in platform failure. In order to manage risks, they must be identified and analyzed for effectiveness such that improvements can be made, if and when necessary. There are requirements within SAE Aerospace Standard AS9100D that should provide a framework for your risk analysis for aerospace engineering. Prior to exploring these further, let’s first examine the risks that we need to mitigate.

The Risks of Getting Into Space

Gazing into a clear sky at night can be mesmerizing. The panorama of serenity, however, does not present the full picture. The space around the earth is actually a very harsh environment with extreme temperature swings and debris, natural and man-made. Besides these risks which must be contended with for long-term deployment in low earth orbit, the launch itself places tremendous vibrational and other mechanical stress on the platform and its systems. Once deployed, space vehicles like satellites must be able to perform intended functions as service and maintenance are currently not available 2.

Space vehicles, both manned and unmanned, rely to some degree on electronic systems and PCBs for virtually all operations. This places a high premium on the quality and reliability of the boards used in these systems, which is the motivation for the rigid regulatory requirements for PCB manufacturing for aerospace systems. To assure that board development meets these standards, you should develop a sound risk analysis plan in collaboration with your contract manufacturer (CM).

Requirements For Risk Analysis For Aerospace Engineering PCB Development

When developing PCBs for the aerospace industry, certain best practices or tips should be followed; this includes being aware of all applicable standards. The AS9100D standard for quality management systems (QMS) is the most important for managing the operational risks of your board design and manufacturing. The effectiveness of your risk management is defined by risk analysis as this activity provides quantitative feedback and forms the basis for making improvements. Essential elements for your risk analysis can be gleaned from section 8.1.1 of the standard that includes the following:

  • Assignment of personnel to manage specific risks

It is best to bring together experts in the various areas of your risk analysis to ensure that your overall plan reflects the best ideas and capabilities.

  • Well-defined assessment criteria

You must quantify your risks and define metrics to rank their impact. Otherwise, no real data can be analyzed that will allow for improvement.

  • Open communication of risks among personnel

You should establish a culture of open communication between risk personnel. This will enable you to respond the quickest to risks throughout the process.

  • Decision metrics for instituting risk controls

Your control metrics should be clear and unambiguous. For example, 15% risk is not a good control metric. Less than 15% or 15% and higher are clear.

  • Acceptance levels for each risk

Be realistic and conservative when determining your acceptance levels.

  • Application of controls for risks that exceed acceptance levels

Have automatic or quickly implementable control actions in place.

  • Acceptance of risks within acceptance levels

Understand that eliminating all risk is usually not possible; therefore, do not disrupt your process unless acceptance levels are exceeded.

The above list generally defines the regulatory requirements for your operational risk analysis for aerospace engineering that should govern your PCB development. By implementing these mandates, you can minimize the risks for your board design and manufacturing.

Tempo‘s Custom Avionics for PCB Manufacturing Service
  • CM for 2 of the industries top 10 aerospace and defense manufacturers and 2 of the 10 satellite producers.
  • AS9100D and IPC J-STD-001E with Space Addendum certified manufacturing processes.
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600 and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFM support from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 3 days.
  • 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.
  • Standard quality testing, including X-ray and inline AOI.

Tempo Automation is experienced in producing boards that meet the strict standards for space vehicle deployment. 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 risk analysis for aerospace engineering or how to how to make sure your PCB development process adheres to the industry standard, contact us.


1   Public Broadcasting Service. 2019. “Rise of the Rockets.” Aired 2/13/19. Video, 53:41 https://video.unctv.org/video/rise-of-the-rockets-l6f1cj/

2   The International Space Station (ISS) is an exception as there is personnel aboard that can perform repairs.

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