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Passives and the Privatization of Spaceflight

Originally posted on TTI MarketEye blog

By Murray Slovik

Private companies are doing a lot more in space today than they were ten years ago, including ferrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), landing and reusing rockets and creating constellations of small communications satellites.

This commercialization of the space industry is taking the form of programs driven by a government agency for private (i.e. non-government) entities; low-cost missions (such as CubeSats); or the activities of private space companies focused primarily on the commercial aspects of space exploration.

However, while passive components represent more than 70 percent of parts used in space applications, according to estimates – for example, capacitors are among the most used devices on a satellite and there can be as many as 10,000 on each spacecraft – these uses are not driving product development.

Why? Simply put, products with relatively low overall volume and high entry cost are difficult to amortize. As such, designers of spacecraft electronics are finding radiation-hardened, space-qualified components to be expensive and difficult to find.

In fact, of all the radiation-hardened electronic components manufactured, only an estimated 10 to 15 percent go into NASA programs. Of the remainder, 60 percent go into commercial initiatives and 25 percent into military projects.

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