Understanding Space Qualification of Electronic Components

What is the process of getting electronic components qualified for use in space?

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- everything RF

Aug 25, 2020

Electronic components face a host of challenges while in space, from extreme temperature variation to space radiations. These harsh conditions mean that any Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) component cannot be used for space missions. To simply the process of selecting space-grade components, certain certifications are used to denote the quality of the components. These certifications are very difficult to attain and to attain these the components have to undergo a very strict set of screening and qualification processes.

Some of the main space-grade certifications are:

  1. MIL-STD-883
  2. MIL-PRF-38534 (Class K)
  3. MIL-PRF-38535
  4. AS9100
  5. JESD22

Burn-in: It is a test to detect the early failure of semiconductor components. This is usually done by operating the components at their extreme thermal, electrical and environmental operating conditions over a period of time.

Non-Destructive Bond Pull: This test is done to detect non-acceptable/faulty wire bonds without affecting any of the acceptable/working wire bonds. It is applicable for all bonds made by either ultrasonic or thermal compression techniques, except those larger than 0.005-inch diameter (or equivalent cross section area) that do not have sufficient clearance to permit use of a hook.

Temperature Cycle: Also called thermal shock test, it exposes the device under test (DUT) to fluctuating temperatures to detect failure that can be caused by repeated exposure to rapidly varying temperatures.

Mechanical Shock: This test simulates the application of sudden force or abrupt change in motion. It aims to observe the disturbance in operating characteristics or damage caused by the repetitive vibrations/shocks.

Constant Acceleration: This is a high-stress test in which semiconductor devices are exposed to constant acceleration to simulate its effects on the devices. This centrifuge test exposes mechanical and structural weaknesses not necessarily detected in vibration or mechanical shock testing.

Particle Impact Noise Detection (PIND): PIND, or PIN-D, is designed to detect loose particles inside the device which can affect the functionality, reliability or personal safety. It provides a non-destructive way of identifying devices which contain unattached particles that can potentially excite the transducers and generate unwanted signals.

Radiographic Testing: It is a non-destructive test method that uses EM waves to detect any defects or anomalies (internal or external) in the device, which can disrupt normal operations.

Space Component Selection Process

Obtaining the space-grade certifications still won’t guarantee that the component will be selected for a space mission. Space organizations, such as NASA, ISRO, ESA, SpaceX, etc. have their own general requirements as well.

Key criteria when selecting a component for use in space:

  • Product availability
  • Manufacturer audit and survey results
  • Manufacturer responsiveness to corrective actions
  • Manufacturer delivery histories
  • Product workmanship assessments 
    • Destructive Physical Analysis results
    • Failure histories
    • Reliability trends
    • GIDEP alert histories of the product and manufacturer
    • Qualification and screening test results

For instance, NASA has NPSL (NASA Parts Selection List). Components have to achieve the space-grade certifications and also pass NASA’s internal criteria to be listed in the NPSL. The NPSL lists products based on three quality levels which are defined by NASA EEE Parts Assurance Group (NEPAG): Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, with Level 1 being the highest product assurance class assigned to parts followed by Level 2 and Level 3.

Click here to read why components that need to be used in space require these certifications.

Click here to view space-qualified components from the leading manufacturers.