Putting Data Acquistion Units on a Diet for Small Launcher Applications
The world of space launchers has changed; the last 10 years have shown a shift from government dominated launches to commercial organizations as well as a move towards increasingly smaller launchers which provide a lower cost way of getting newer, smaller satellites into orbit. Cost is a big driving factor for all launchers, and one significant expense is the cost of the instrumentation system.
The obvious answer to lowering cost is to use commercial off the shelf (COTS) systems, but space is a harsh environment where standard COTS systems are unlikely to meet reliability requirements. Ruggedized systems, like those used in aerospace applications such as flight test instrumentation, can prove useful as a low cost alternative for some mission profiles, as they have been designed to be reliable in harsh environments. These systems are often called ‘Space COTS’.
For missions where radiation is a factor driving requirements, engineers can take one of two approaches to designing electronics that will be exposed to significant doses: they either make it radiation-hardened, meaning the inherent technology provides protection from radiation, or radiation-tolerant, which means there is acceptance of some degree of performance loss from exposure to radiation.
Radiation hardened systems are the most reliable, but they are also the most expensive. Radiation tolerant systems come with a lower price tag and consequently, lower reliability. However, there are many mission profiles where lowering the level of space qualification is acceptable and the cost savings are significant enough to justify an increased risk of failure; such cost savings can be on the order of 50%. The smart backplane technology used in the Acra KAM-500 is one example of a radiation tolerant system.