Global demand for affordable satellite communications for applications ranging from cell phone connectivity and television content, to space-based military and agriculture surveillance and monitoring are driving huge increases in small satellites and the radiation-hardened electronics that make them function effectively.

It is this need for radiation hardening that focuses the electronics industry’s efforts on developing components like microprocessors, power-management devices, and solid-state memory that are inexpensive to buy, yet resilient enough to survive in space for periods ranging from weeks to years.

“We are really starting to see four quantums in the satellite space marketplace,” explains Anthony Jordan, director of business development at Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions Inc. (CAES) in Colorado Springs, Colo. These four quantums consist of small cubesats with mission durations of only 12 to 18 months; business satellites with life spans of two or three years of mission life; so-called “constellation space” with each satellite expected to last in orbit for five to seven years; and finally the long-duration satellites that will operate in geosynchronous orbits for decades.

Four space segments

The first quantum primarily is for proof-of-concept research projects and can accept non-rad-hard components. The second quantum must have limited radiation
hardening for short durations in low- or medi­um-Earth orbits. The third quantum must have some serious radiation hardening for multi-year missions; and the fourth quantum must have the most extensive levels of radiation hardening for decades of operation in harsh geosynchronous and polar orbits.

The whole idea is to design, test, or upscreen electronic components that are good enough for their intended applications, while keeping size, weight, power consumption, and cost (SWaP-C) to a minimum to meet mission goals.

Read more: The evolving world of radiation-hardened electronics for space