20 Jun 2012
Altium Designer used for SpaceX flight
Space transport start-up Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, made history last month when its Dragon spacecraft returned to Earth following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station.
The Altium Designer unified development environment helped SpaceX develop electronic circuitry that meets the high levels of quality and reliability demanded from space technology at a commercially viable cost.
Space has long been a field reserved for big spenders such as governments and large companies. However with rapid advances in electronics and information technology, SpaceX has managed to break through the cost barrier with its family of low-cost Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft.
To ensure its launch vehicles always meet the highest level of quality and reliability, SpaceX develops many of its boards and controllers in-house under the fault–tolerant discipline. This complex and time consuming engineering technique ensures that all systems can continue to operate despite a given component failing.
SpaceX found that by incorporating Altium Designer into its production process, the design process could be simplified considerably. Enhanced version control features also meant SpaceX was able to better manage its ongoing design development.
Live design capabilities meant that the simplest modifications could be automatically adjusted in all previous board and schematic work. The result was a flexible, reliable and cost-effective development and documentation process for SpaceX’s catalogue of PCB designs.
According to Altium, the library feature also provided SpaceX engineers with the latest and most up-to-date components in a user-friendly system. Engineers were also able to add new components, which allowed for greater customisation and board enhancements.
In addition, design flows were complemented by FPGA-based components for instant FPGA integration. This feature meant SpaceX could immediately employ FPGAs into its designs, easily capturing them at the schematic level.
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