John Keller, the editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, has recently authored an interesting article at his publication's infosite entitled "Growth seen in independently developing traditional rad-hard and smallsat markets."
John writes that demand for radiation-hardened electronics for space applications continues to grow, with opportunities in traditional rad-hard spacecraft, as well as for radiation-tolerant small satellites, industry experts say.
Electronic component suppliers for space applications find themselves serving two distinctly different market segments today, said company officials recently at the IEEE Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference in New Orleans.
The first rad-hard market segment is the traditional QML-V, in which components are designed from the ground-up for long-term resistance to the effects of the radiation environment of space. The second segment revolves around so-called smallsats and cubesats that can use commercial-grade components. It involves relatively inexpensive satellites expected to last in space for no more than three to five years — sometimes even less.
The traditional rad-hard market deals in expensive components, made in small numbers, that are expected to operate reliably for years or decades in Earth orbit or in deep space. The smallsat market deals largely in Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) parts upscreened for extra reliability that are expected to operate reliably for a matter of months to as long as five years.
"We see a segmentation of the market — even a new market," said Javier Valle, aerospace systems engineer for high-reliability products at Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas. "It's not fair to compare these market segments because of scale. We are talking thousands of parts vs. hundreds of parts."
Both market segments today are growing — the traditional market is in a cyclic upswing, while the smallsat market is increasing due to sharply reducing launch costs from commercial space companies, and from a growing demand for small sats for applications ranging from Earth observation to space-based communications and networking.
"Smallsats is an exciting area; they're still in space, so there are radiation effects that designers need to be concerned with," said Andrew Popp, space products marketing manager at International Rectifier HiRel Products Inc., an Infineon Technologies company in El Segundo, Calif.
Some smallsat applications are expected to operate reliably for relatively short durations and are little concerned with long-term reliability. Still, those serving this market are starting to think about pushing the limits of reliability using upscreened COTS parts and subsystems designed for radiation environments.