Maximizing Profitability in Space: Why Radiation Hardened Solutions are Essential for Long-Term Success

Space companies are looking to take advantage of the fact that spacecraft launch costs are at an all-time low to offer new space-based services via a myriad of satellites. While the costs of launching spacecraft have decreased, satellite service providers are still spending plenty to initiate services, fill orbits, and reach profitability. Operators need to minimize risks and naturally look for components that are the most reliable and prove zero failures. So, what types of components should be chosen to operate in cosmic destinations? While some satellite designers consider using low-cost COTS (commercial-off-the shelf) components that work on Earth, the truth is that space is a completely different ball game! That’s why you should always rely on electronics that are especially designed to withstand the harsh cosmic environment to ensure planned business models reach profitability.

The satellite industry doesn’t come by cheap. Several millions of dollars are spent on designing, constructing, launching, and raising satellites before they can yield revenue. That’s why low risk has always been a priority – to ensure spacecraft life, while populating orbits quickly and inexpensively. Companies have few select chances to launch, and there isn’t exactly a technical support system ready and waiting to fix satellites if something goes wrong. While prices have declined, launches remain a sunk cost and generate zero revenue for service providers so minimizing the number of launches to get to a fully operational constellation has become of utmost importance.

Satellites orbiting at various distances have varying lifespans and levels of risk, making the selection of spacecraft design elements a complex choice for service providers. The GEO orbit’s long-operational satellites generate long-term revenues but pose a threat to connectivity when a single satellite fails. In the MEO orbit, multiple satellites are needed to provide global coverage, and while a single failure is not catastrophic, it adversely affects service quality, lifespan, and profitability. For Low Earth Orbit (LEO) connectivity missions, hundreds of smaller satellites with shorter lifespans are required with each failure a burden on the rest of the constellation. Risk mitigation must be a key design element as fleets small or large need to constantly be refreshed and accelerating the allocation of additional CAPEX risks profitability.

The new market landscape for satellite services presents exciting opportunities for companies looking to connect, observe, and remotely sense everything from ships at sea to weather patterns on the other side of the world. But while new applications and services constantly expand the potential of the industry, one thing remains a constant: the challenge of generating revenue while maximizing an asset’s lifetime. That’s why satellite providers must constantly strive to design satellites with the most effective technology possible, all while balancing the need to offer affordable and reliable add-on services. But let’s not kid ourselves: space is hard. Radiation, rapid temperature changes, and zero gravity all present huge real hurdles to overcome. God doesn’t play dice with the universe, and neither should we.

The cheapest and most popular option is COTS, which is used commonly on Earth, but may not necessarily be suitable for the space environment. COTS equipment can malfunction due to extreme radiation events, which damage silicon components and does not allow these types of designs to meet the demanding requirements of most space applications. Radiation-hardened technology that’s specially designed to withstand the rigors of space can and will save you countless headaches – and dollars – down the line.

Many Space companies are devising purpose-built for space solutions. While it may seem cheaper to use COTS, it may spell disaster for service providers, since a single radiation event in space can render the most innovative technology utterly useless. And that isn’t cheap to fix. The new advancements of functionality in space constantly amaze us. But what’s key is the foundation on which those applications are run on. Radiation hardened components are inevitable for reliable space missions.
We want players across the space services industry to continue to look to the future and aim high. Radiation-hardened solutions can enable the most ambitious space applications and services to function reliably. These solutions can continue to empower the next generation of space pioneers, thinkers, and innovators to do what no one has done before: taking the space industry’s computing capabilities to our solar system…. and beyond.

Steve Good serves as the Chief Commercial Officer of Ramon.Space.