Guest blog: the dilemma of finding spare electronics parts for space satellites

NEWBURYPORT, Mass., 10 Sept. 2013. Satellite electronic technology usually isn't an issue of concern unless spacecraft are damaged, don't work, or are about to fall to Earth as space junk. Public and private communications networks,. however, rely heavily on satellites, which for electronics is a big business.

Sep 10th, 2013
By George Karalias
By George Karalias

NEWBURYPORT, Mass., 10 Sept. 2013.Satellite electronic technology usually isn't an issue of concern unless spacecraft are damaged, don't work, or are about to fall to Earth as space junk. Public and private communications networks,. however, rely heavily on satellites, which for electronics is a big business.

For example, the global market for military satellites alone hit $11.8 billion in 2012, according to research from market researcher Strategic Defence Intelligence in London. That space technology market is expected to increase at a combined average growth rate of 3.9 percent to reach $17.3 billion by 2022.

The satellite market consists of three categories: communications; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and navigation. The communications segment is expected to account for 52.8 percent of the global military satellite market, followed by the ISR segment with a share of 28.4 percent, and navigation with the remaining 18.8 percent.

Estimates for the commercial and military satellite markets combined top $170 billion. Commercial growth is expected to outpace the military market because of increasing demand for satellite TV and other services.

There is already a significant investment in satellites orbiting the Earth. When a communication satellite fails today, it usually means the expensive prospect of launching a replacement satellite. Many failed or obsolete satellites still have usable antennas, solar arrays, and other components, yet currently there is no way to re-use them.

Satellites also require significant ground-based support. The architecture for a space-based infrared system (SBIR), for example, consists of the spacecraft as well as the ground infrastructure to receive, process, and deliver the infrared information to key decision makers. Like the satellites they support, these systems are designed to operate for decades. To ensure systems continue to work up to spec, they need constant maintenance and repair.

In the electronic components industry, the devices required for repair and replacement often aren't designed to operate on the job for decades. Component makers continually strive to bring new products to market and declare older versions end-of-life (EOL.) This presents a dilemma for any business that owns and operates long-lifecycle equipment.

Businesses have several choices when it comes to securing EOL products. Original devices often are available through distributors that take advantage of end-of-life buys. These distributors will purchase and maintain EOL inventory for as long as it's needed.

Authorized distributors provide this service with the full support and warrantee from the original component manufacturer (OCM). Not all channels provide the same guarantee: distributors can buy products anywhere in the open market, but may not store and manage parts per OCM specifications. These non-authorized channels increase the risk of procuring a faulty component. Additionally, OCMs don't always warrantee products bought through non-authorized channels.

The existing inventory of EOL devices also might run out. Authorized distributors offer additional means of support, such as buying from suppliers the die, masks, tools, and IP necessary to remanufacture a component from scratch. If those resources aren't available, these distributors can re-engineer a device identical in form, fit and function to the original and warrantees the product.

If supplies can't provide a replacement directly, an authorized partner is the next -- and safest -- option.

George Karalias is director of marketing and communications for Rochester Electronics, an aftermarket electronics supplier and authorized aftermarket electronics distributor based in Newburyport, Mass. Contact Rochester Electronics online at www.rocelec.com.

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