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Exploring the reliability of COTS parts for space missions

Exploring the reliability of COTS parts for space missions

Stephen Kuper

A new report by the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS), Got Reliability? Off-The-Shelf Electronic Parts for Resilient Space Systems, analyses the key drivers that motivate the space sector to use OTS electronic parts in resilient missions.

Off-the-shelf (OTS) electrical, electronic, electromechanical and electro-optical (EEEE) parts are widely used in aviation, medical, automotive, commercial and industrial applications after characterisation to validate they meet mission requirements.

Dr Allyson Yarbrough, principal engineer in Aerospace’s electronics and sensors division and co-author of the CSPS report, explained, "Instead of offering prescriptive closed-form solutions or one-size-fits-all answers, we want to encourage technical discussions between these stakeholders and developers of resilient systems to make pragmatic mission-specific policy and technical choices."

The CSPS report addresses some of the opportunities and challenges that decision makers may have when contemplating the reliability of EEEE parts and their applicability to space missions.

OTS parts have advanced capabilities at a lower purchase cost, which makes them attractive for short space missions and readily available for immediate use. This assumes some level of analysis or testing is performed to ensure the OTS parts meet requirements, especially those related to space radiation.

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Many foreign companies are integral to the supply chain for space because their technology and parts are substantially ahead of the US space-related needs. They can also deliver faster capabilities to refresh missions. However, there are some threats to consider.

One concern is that it is often complicated to get detailed product information from foreign suppliers, should it be needed for a mission failure or investigation. While not unique to foreign suppliers, another is the higher risk of counterfeit OTS parts within the supply chain. 

"Our report outlines the considerations and challenges for decision-makers who influence the selection, procurement or use of OTS parts," Dr Yarbrough said. 

Dr Jamie Morin, vice president and executive director of CSPS, said that previous, current and emerging business practices and models have evolved to address these concerns.

"This CSPS report proposes steps that the space community could take to integrate the use of OTS EEEE parts while managing risk," he said.

CSPS is dedicated to shaping the future by providing nonpartisan research and strategic analysis to decision makers. The centre is part of the Aerospace Corporation, a non-profit that provides objective advice to the government on complex space enterprise and systems engineering problems and has more than 4,000 employees based in El Segundo, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Washington, DC.

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