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Plastic Components for Advanced Microwave Equipment of New Generation SatCom PAyloads

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PAMPA (Plastic Components for Advanced Microwave Equipment of New Generation SatCom PAyloads)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2017-09-30

The space sector is more competitive than ever, which explains why a number of studies have been launched to reduce the cost of producing satellites in Europe by calling on innovative solutions. In 2014, the European Commission issued a call for tenders to address this issue. This led to PAMPA – Plastic Components for Advanced Microwave Equipment of Next Generation SatCom Payloads – an R&D project within the scope of the Horizon 2020 research & innovation program. Its objective is to demonstrate the possibility of using plastic components on microwave equipment operating from 1 to 30 GHz. These components are used in telecom satellite payloads to receive microwave signals transmitted from Earth and process them before amplifying them for retransmission back to the ground. Today, these components use hermetically-sealed metal or ceramic packaging. The PAMPA study demonstrate the use of plastic components and printed circuit boards to manufacture microwave units that offer equivalent performance and environmental resistance. This type of technology has been proven in the automotive industry (for backup radars in particular), and could shortly be used on European satellites. By employing plastic components, manufacturers can reduce the production cost of microwave equipment, without penalizing robustness. The performance and reliability results obtained in PAMPA have shown that this track is very promising for new telecom satellite solutions.
The consortium gathered by Thales Alenia Space France includes IKOR Technology Centre in Spain for the board assembly, UMS (United Monolitic Semiconductors) in France and SENCIO in the Netherlands for the manufacturing of components in plastic packages and IMEC in Belgium for the reliability assessment. The aim was to develop a microwave unit operating at 20 GHz with plastic microwave components and a printed circuit board, starting from the bare integrated circuits at the start of the project. The CAMP- Channel Amplifier- unit developed in PAMPA has passed all the electrical and critical environmental tests (thermal cycling and vibrations).
In addition, the microwave integrated circuits-MMIC- in plastic package developed in the project with a European supply chain have passed all the reliability tests at component level. This includes construction analysis, thermal cycling, life test and a test specific to non- hermetic components, 1000h in Temperature (85°C), Humidity (85 % RH) and Bias condition. This accelerated test is performed to make sure that components will not be damaged by humidity before the launch of the satellite, as satellite electronic hardware can stay on Earth up to 3 years before launch.
Looking at the scale of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) for Space Systems that goes from 1 (basic principles observed) to 9 (actual system “mission proven”), we can size the impact of PAMPA project. With the results obtained, the use of plastic components and printed circuit board to build microwave hardware for satellites has increased from a TRL 3, which is the proof-of-concept, to a TRL 5, which is validation in relevant environment. PAMPA CAMP- Channel Amplifier- is the first Evaluation Model unit for Ka band geostationary telecom satellite built with plastic technology.
Through the project, a European supply chain for plastic QFN (Quad Flat No lead) components is proposed. A TRL 6, demonstration of critical function in relevant environment, has been reached for the two MMIC references in plastic package evaluated. These are essential results to promote this technology as an alternative to hermetic packaging for hardware of GEO satellites.
Looking at the impact of project results, the mass improvement on a CAMP unit with PAMPA technology is of 30% compared to current generation, which directly translates in savings for satellite launching. This is a key advantage, in addition to the gain in cost and lead time. Project conclusions are very beneficial for the competitiveness of European Space industry.
3D drawing of MMIC in QFN plastic package
PAMPA logo
Production map of plastic QFN components (about 400 devices)
PAMPA demonstrator unit mounted on the vibration shaker
Plastic QFN components mounted in structures for Temperature Humidity Bias testing