High-Reliability Microwave Component Technology Enables Space Innovation

Posted by Peter Matthews on Feb 12, 2020 6:00:00 AM
Peter Matthews

With more than 2,000 satellites currently orbiting the Earth, and that number expected to quintuple in the next 10 years, the demand for space-ready components is exponentially increasing (Figure 1). At the same time, the technology needed to control and transmit satellite data has changed from mechanically controlled parabolic or dish technology to active electronically steered arrays (AESAs).


Figure 1. A representation of the number of satellites historically launched and projected to launch for the next five years. Source.

Between higher demand and this technological shift in the space industry, satellite developers are faced with creating a difficult balance between wanting to use components with a proven reliable space heritage yet needing to push the boundaries of satellite technology. Therefore, when building parts that will ultimately end up in space, engineers typically have the following questions for suppliers:

  1. How do you demonstrate that your components are highly reliable; have they flown before?
  2. What is the size and weight of each part?
  3. How do you handle working with fixed schedules?


Proving Reliability Through Stringent Testing and Space Heritage

When launching expensive mission-critical equipment into space, reliability is key. Therefore, any application that will ultimately be sent into space needs to use high-quality components that have been through the appropriate testing to ensure long-term reliability. This includes special life testing, sectioning and additional electrical measurements, to meet space standards such as the European Space Components Coordination Generic Specification No. 3009 (ESCC3009). Knowles Precision Devices tests its space-ready components to this standard among other strict high-reliability standards from the mil-aero industry (Figure 2). More details of this testing and other information regarding reliability is available in the High-Reliability Solutions Catalogue.

reliabilitygradesFigure 2. A representation of the reliability grades Knowles Precision Devices tests to.

Beyond rigorous testing, the best way to prove reliability in space is through experience. For 15 years, Knowles Precision Devices components have been used in space applications, from the Mars Rover to numerous satellites. Additionally, Knowles Precision Devices is recognized as a supplier for space and high-reliability applications and already approved by NASA for supplying planar capacitor arrays for the International Space Station.


Doing More with Less – Smaller and Lighter Components are a Must

Like most industries, the trend in space is to do more, such as rapidly sending and receiving more data, but also have a smaller footprint. Thus, more communication technology is being crammed into each satellite. This means the demand for smaller and lighter components is trickling down the supply chain, and the size and weight of every part is closely scrutinized.

For example, AESAs with high-data-rate transmission require compact planar phased arrays. To make compact planar phased arrays, engineers need high-performance, small footprint microwave products. Knowles Precision Devices microwave components, from our bandpass filters to our splitters/combiners, are ideal for these applications because our products offer a reduced footprint versus similar alternatives and integrate into both chip-and-wire and surface mount assembly processes.

In general, Knowles Precision Devices is addressing the demands for smaller and lighter components by starting at the source with a team of scientists that focus on developing dielectric materials to make our components on. Our material science experts focus on combining these innovative dielectrics with tight tolerance thin-film manufacturing and unique device topologies to provide some of the best performance for the footprint that is available. As a result, our highly reliable custom formulations are much lighter and smaller than typical off-the-shelf materials used by many suppliers such as alumina.


Meeting the Demands of Fixed Schedules

At Knowles Precision Devices, we understand this is the space industry, which means there are strict launch schedules end-users must adhere to. Therefore, manufacturers of parts used in space applications need to know their components are going to show up on time and work upon arrival. As a result of our space heritage, Knowles Precision Devices has a variety of existing designs available that customers can reuse. This means our customers know our components will arrive as scheduled and are proven to work.

Overall, Knowles Precision Devices is the go-to microwave expert for high-reliability space applications. With more than 40 years of experience developing high-performance microwave components for military applications, and 15 years of experience developing components for the space industry, Knowles Precision Devices has developed specialized expertise and patents in ceramics and thin-film manufacturing to meet even the most stringent requirements.

Learn more about Knowles Precision Devices’ space application expertise.

Topics: RF and Microwave, Military and Aerospace, High Reliability

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