Altium, SpaceX, Designer
Altium instrumental in breaking down the barrier to commercial space travel
News Release from:
20 June 2012
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. Thanks to Altium’s enhanced version control features, SpaceX was able to better manage its ongoing design development. Altium’s 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.
Altium’s comprehensive libraries were found to be one of the biggest development boons for SpaceX. The library feature provided 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 customization and board enhancements.
In addition, design flows were complemented by Altium Designer’s ready-to-use 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. With the features combined, SpaceX had a complete set of solutions in a single platform system.
SpaceX found that by using Altium Designer, it could build avionic systems that meet the same quality standards as those used in multi-million dollar satellite projects at a much lower cost. This was confirmed by the successful launch of the Dragon spacecraft which reached the space station at its first attempt, transferred its cargo without problem and then safely returned to Earth. The electronics designed with Altium played a crucial part in this success.