How Are Printed Circuit Boards Designed and Assembled for Spacecraft?

Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) are employed in nearly every electronic product used today. Looking similar to a tiny city block, they commonly consist of flat structures that are packed with the terminals and pathways used to facilitate the transfer of signals from one place to the next. In other words, PCBs are the medium used to connect electronic components to one another in a controlled manner. As a result, it should come as no surprise that they can be found all across aerospace operations, being used to facilitate much of the functionality of electronic systems on board spacecraft. But what separates the PCBs you might find in your mobile phone from those used in aerospace projects? The answer comes down to a strict set of standards that ensure the PCBs used on space vehicles are reliable enough to stay effective in what can often be unusual working conditions. For more information, keep reading as we discuss the design and assembly principles that make these PCBs approved for avionics.

Key Features of Aerospace PCB Assembly and Design

The manufacturing and designing process of PCBs for avionics is completely different than that of simple commercial electronics. Since many of the electronic processes on board must be highly precise, there is no room for error, and any minor flaw in PCBs could have major consequences. For example, PCBs are a vital component for receiving and transmitting signals to and from spacecraft, so if the related electronics cannot function effectively, it could cause miscommunication which can result in premature landing failure and other issues. As a result, PCBs must be designed with strict standards in relation to the following:

Durability: Aerospace projects need to be functional for long periods of time, operating from months to years while remaining largely inaccessible for maintenance and service in case of failures. Consequently, all the PCBs must be durable and efficient enough to last over this long period.

Material Selection: The base material used for manufacturing PCBs must be highly specific, meaning that the material used should be certified by laboratories for several factors. These include the material’s resistance to factors like temperature, vacuums, humidity, rigidity, and more. In addition, the endurance of PCBs must also be checked with testing carried out multiple times to ensure that they will stay effective amid changing conditions.

Testing After Manufacturing

Plenty of measures are put into place during the making of aerospace electronics, but because they are designed for such high-risk, significant applications, manufacturing the parts correctly is not enough. Rather, PCBs and other avionics must also be tested several times after manufacturing to make sure that they will be durable and effective. In this case, testing often includes thermal evaluation, vibration testing, along with security and quality inspection. Since PCBs are internal parts of a spacecraft that often stay untouched after installation, testing is particularly important. This is because if PCBs fail to deliver within the testing period, there is time to redevelop them. If they fail to function correctly in space, on the other hand, there will be no chance to repair the PCBs, and one could lose millions in costly damages and repairs.


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