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Getting Ready for Space

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by Matt May, Manager Dynamics & Vibration and Environmental Testing, Dayton T. Brown, Inc.

Whether for communications, research, or surveillance, more electronic systems are being placed into orbit around Earth, requiring proper screening and testing to ensure they are ready for space.

Electronic systems in space provide an often-needed boost for electronic services back on Earth, including communications and geolocation. However, systems in space require the highest reliability, with little or no opportunity for maintenance of components and systems in orbiting satellites. Those systems must operate nonstop and without fail for the life of a satellite, which can be anywhere from 5 to 15 years. Readying electronic components and systems for space is not a trivial matter and requires specialized test chambers, instruments, and people with the experience and skills to use them. For those looking to the skies, Dayton T. Brown, Inc. (www.dtb.com) can ensure that their electronic components and systems will be ready for space.

Working decades with NASA (www.nasa.gov) has enabled Dayton T. Brown, Inc. to identify many of the test and engineering steps that help prepare electronic components and systems for space. NASA has detailed these preparations in widely available publications such as EEE-INST-002 which provides recommendations for the types of electronic components best suited for space. Put simply, electronic components and systems for space must survive the trip from Earth (and the extreme shock and vibration effects of the launch) and must perform reliably and according to specifications in space. Ensuring that an electronic component or system is ready for space requires careful inspection and precise testing, making measurements under conditions that mimic an operating environment beyond the atmosphere of Earth, such as operating over temperature ranges as wide as -100 to +200°C.

Space is among the most hostile of operating environments for any electronic component or system. It is a vacuum, with no atmospheric pressure compared to Earth, and it is subject to large swings in temperature and several forms of radiation, depending upon the distance from Earth. For example, the effects of direct solar radiation on different materials used in electronic components such as electromechanical switches may be unknown, resulting in performance deviations caused by large temperature swings or photochemical reactions of different materials to direct solar radiation.

Organizations involved with launching and managing space-based vehicles and structures typically have their suppliers’ subject electronic components and systems to 100% high-level screening and testing to determine that the parts meet full quality assurance (QA) required for space use. Testing is usually on the same level as applied to defense electronic systems, with standards such as MIL-STD-202G used for component testing and MIL-STD-883 for microcircuits. Performing such measurements requires precision but also efficiency when working with tight production deadlines.

The thermal vacuum facility can test components, devices, and systems across wide temperature ranges and under high vacuum to replicate operating conditions for a component or system in space.

In addition to its array of facilities and instrumentation for commercial, industrial, and military component and system testing, Dayton T. Brown, Inc. offers the test equipment and the expertise to evaluate the electronic components and systems that must survive and thrive in space. The firm’s key test facility in Bohemia, NY is certified to perform testing that ensures electronic equipment can endure the operating conditions of space. For evaluating components or full systems to such space-specialized measurements as those performed during solar radiation testing, the firm can meet MIL-STD-810 requirements and even test according to the rigorous requirements of the ATPD 2352 specifications applied by the U. S. Army to transparent armor for armored ground vehicles and military structures. Solar radiation testing can provide invaluable insights on the short- and long-term effects of direct solar radiation on different materials used in electronic components and systems, discovering, for example, whether a sufficient solar heat load can cause the delamination of copper conductor layers from the dielectric materials used to form printed circuit boards (PCBs).

Testing for Space
Stress can never be under-estimated when screening and testing electronic components and systems for space. Because the operating environment for electronic equipment is so completely different than what devices, components, and systems endure on Earth, environmental testing is essential for determining the “space worthiness” of any component or system. Dayton T. Brown has facilities and test laboratories for a wide range of tests that can shed insights into the QA of a component or system in space, including laboratories for testing ballistics, dynamics and vibration, EMI/EMC, direct field acoustic (DFAT), environmental effects, proof, burst and pressure cycling, failure analysis (FA), optical characteristics, and thermal vacuum effects.

The thermal vacuum facility (see figure) provides very “spacelike” conditions for testing, with the capability to simulate space altitudes of 330,000 ft. or more and perform temperature cycling of components and systems maintained in a chamber with  1 × 10-5 Torr vacuum. Combined with the shock and vibration test capabilities of the dynamics and vibration lab, high vibration testing of components and systems can be performed ~ 200 g RMS at temperatures through +200°C and cryo-vibration testing to -320°F to MIL-DTL-38999 requirements for space.

In addition, the thermal vacuum facility (see figure) can evaluate the amount of out-gassing” or releasing of gasses that will take place when electronic components and systems are operated for any time in a vacuum. To minimize the deleterious effects of outgassing on a component releasing the gas or on surrounding components, components and systems can be operated for any specified amount of time prior to being installed in a satellite and placed into orbit, so that the greatest amount of outgassing will occur before the component or system is in its actual operating environment.

For components and systems in low Earth orbit satellites (LEOS) operating within the Earth’s thermosphere, which are subject to the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, Dayton T. Brown, Inc.’s test facilities can also analyze the effects of UV radiation on materials and essential components, such as solar panels on LEOS which can lose efficiency due to UV radiation. Working with in-house engineering teams, UV shielding can be developed to block or minimize the effects of the UV radiation and contribute to the efforts to achieve higher reliability with longer operating lifetimes for electronic components and systems in space.

Testing electronic components and systems for space is one part of how Dayton T. Brown, Inc. readies equipment for space, since the firm also features extensive engineering services that can analyze a device under test (DUT) for the purpose of extending its reliability and operating lifetime. Experienced antenna designers can even improve the bandwidth and gain of a system’s antennas for improved data-rate performance. Functions such as FA and service-life-extension engineering work with system-level engineering and testing, such as structural and environmental testing of satellites according to ECSS-E-ST-10-03 test standards to ensure that systems built for space will not fail.

Additionally, the Company’s technical services division provides technical publications and the logistics support necessary for military and space programs.  DTB’s divisions work collaboratively to produce comprehensive QTP and ATP documentation.  DTB’s experts have an in-depth understanding of various commercial and military testing requirements for the space community. Coupled with safety and hazard mitigation and implementation solutions, the DTB team can analyze source data, develop Qualification Test Procedures (QTPs) and/or Acceptance Test Procedures (ATPs), design, build and procure test setups, perform tests and report test results. As a respected test facility supporting organizations throughout the United States, DTB provides clients with a uniquely qualified resource that can offer recommendations and insights into how to perform testing and the associated documentation to satisfy commercial, Space Force, NASA, and defense requirements. 

  

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