Electronic – IC’s operationg at high temperatures


I was reading an article yesterday about circuits and IC's in deep space and how they need to be operable at high temperatures. A few questions popped up when I read this article. Today there are many and have been many missions/projects of surveillance ops in our outer universe Furthermore, NASA has put together missions involving asteroid research as well as JAXA. I realize there are numerous control variables that take a play aboard these specific systems. I have a few questions I thought someone could answer briefly or if to extensive could post a source where I could refer too for further information.

Does atmospheric pressure effect operating temperatures of circuits and/or IC's implemented on a system in space?

Does radiation/gases effect operating temperatures of a circuit and/or IC's in the same scenario above? If so, does the engineer have to take in precautionary measures in the construction of a circuit if the system might be exposed in low orbit of planetary systems?

What kind of precautionary measures are we talking about in GENERAL terms? Are there any good resources out there that explains how circuits can generate heat and tactics used to lower their levels of heat given off?

Thanks for any advice or information. Again, if information is to extensive please attach a source that I or anyone else could use for further information/research. Thanks again.


Best Answer

Atmospheric pressure, or the lack thereof, does affect electronic components. Components in low to near-zero pressure tend to outgas, and while ICs are relatively simple to condition for this, parts like electrolytic capacitors will fail. Hence, components specifically designated for zero-pressure are used instead.

Radiation affects ICs in two ways: Firstly, semiconductor behavior changes significantly under increased ionizing radiation, such as exists outside the earth's protective atmosphere, and in the highly ionized belts of the stratosphere. Hence, radiation-hardened parts are manufactured specifically for such purposes, and are used in space electronics.

Secondly, under normal operation (on the ground) the thermal output of any IC gets removed from the package by a combination of radiation and by being carried away passively by moving air... In low pressure or vacuum, only radiation of heat works, not passive air-borne cooling, thus changing thermal dissipation calculations for any component.

Thus non-traditional cooling mechanisms and considerably greater distribution of conductive cooling paths are required.

Regarding gas-related precautions for space electronics: Manned space vehicles have sometimes used oxygen enriched environments. This leads to a necessary rethinking of such circuit design elements as PCB spark gaps, which could lead to catastrophe.

Also, non-design sparking, such as due to motor / coil field collapse, metal contacts of switches, or just a loose connection, need to be eliminated entirely - much more critical than for normal earth atmosphere. Silicone-filled contact casings, like the classic oil-filled switches, are worth considering. Similarly, space-safe epoxy potting of practically all exposed metal including PCB traces, is a way to go.

Further, there is the whole thermal operation range to be considered, especially for unmanned craft: From very hot (due to solar exposure without atmospheric protection), to very cold (due to no "atmospheric" heat when facing away from the sun).

This cyclic heating and cooling causes potential metal fatigue, junction stress and fracture such as at solder joints, and loose contacts due to uneven mechanical expansion and contraction between different materials.

Finally, not all semiconductor components are specified for extremely low temperatures. While heat might be an obvious concern, cold is an equally big issue. Some parts are specifically manufactured, and tested, for extreme low temperature operation. For other parts, the component behavior changes need to be taken into design consideration. For instance, the simplest PTC resettable fuse is no longer a trivial circuit element in space electronics.

I hope this has given an insight into just some of the factors around your question. For the rest, a search engine is your best bet.

Related Topic