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Since 2000 there have been almost 70 launch failures throughout the world, with around 90% being caused by a “system” failure of some kind, either electrical, mechanical or software. The remaining 10% have come from things that couldn’t really be predicted, such as bird strikes or other airborne debris.
This shows how important testing is in the aerospace industry, it is not just that there are millions of dollars at risk, there is the very real chance of endangering lives.
How do we fit in?
We have many years experience of working in the aerospace industry under our belts, providing test systems for developments at TRL 4 and above. In this time we have come to understand the unique challenges associated with shooting stuff off into space.
So, how does Aerospace differ from any other high tech industry? Here at iNU Solutions we have adapted our processes to handle what we see are the 2 main differences, the operational requirements and the technological challenges.
As is the nature of the Aerospace industry, there is a continuous process of research, development, testing and implementation. Once one idea takes off (literally!) then it’s on to the next one, there is very rarely any mass production at the end of the process.
This subtle difference means that hardware resources such as oscilloscopes, power meters and VNA’s are moved around and used for many different tasks in different departments. As most companies are vendor agnostic we develop software that can be used with hardware from many different manufacturers, meaning you are not tied to a specific hardware supplier or lab setup.
In many cases the research is an evolution of a previous version rather than a revolutionary new idea, in this instance – and if appropriate – we design our software to be as flexible and re-useable as possible. This allows our customers to update and maintain the software themselves, giving them the flexibility to make their own choices.
As would be expected, the aerospace industry uses cutting edge, state of the art products and processes. Pushing the boundaries of existing technology and where appropriate developing new technologies where none currently exist.
This creates unique challenges when it comes to testing, often there is no COTS solution and it becomes necessary to design a custom solution. This is where having a company like iNU Solutions to partner with can help save time and reduce costs.
As a team of engineers we have the ability to take your baseline requirements and work with you — the domain experts — to specify, develop and deploy a test system that not only meets your requirements for today, but can be built on for tomorrow.
VNAs – such as the M9375A from Keysight – measure the amplitude and phase of RF signals, often returning results in the form of S-Parameters.
A VST combines a vector signal generator and vector signal analyser to measure/test many wireless standards. The PXIe-5644 from National Instruments also uses FPGA to increase speed and add flexibility.
Using a high performance switch with your VNA allows multi-port devices to be tested in one test cycle, without the need to manually remove and attach cables for each port combination. Keysight offer many different options in PXI format.
High Speed Digital IO instruments are used to generate and analyse digital waveforms, both static and dynamic.
PPMUs are used to perform characterisation tests on semiconductor type devices, including RF and mixed signal ICs.
SpaceWire is a standard for high-speed links and networks for use onboard spacecraft, easing the interconnection of:
- processing units, and
- downlink telemetry sub-systems.
MIL-STD-1553 is a US Department of Defence standard that defines a particular serial data bus. Modules such as this module from NI can be used to interface with this standard for testing.
CAN bus is a robust communication standard for use in noisy environments such as automotive. It allows micro controllers to communicate with each other, with the same transmitted data able to be used by several different controllers.
PXI is a platform use to build test systems, using industry standard communication busses within a rugged chassis. PXI forms the basis for many ATE setups, allowing for easy exchange of hardware with minimum impact on mechanical design. Companies such as National Instruments, Keysight and Rhode & Schwarz all provide a wide range of hardware in PXI format.
FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) is a type of integrated circuit that can be programmed to perform specific tasks. It can be overwritten many times, making it very flexible for R&D type activities. They are very fast and allow very precise synchronisation of tasks.
A Real-Time Operating System is used when tasks must be performed at a certain rate, or within a certain timeframe. They have integrated scheduling algorithms that allow it to operate in a predictable manner, it is more suited to “precise work” than heavy duty number crunching.