European Space Agency

Use of Lower Cost Technology for next generation Telecommunications Spacecrafts


The objective of the activity is to study specific approaches to lower the cost of components and technology for GEO Telecommunications Spacecrafts.


The main issues to be addressed are:

  • Identify ways of reducing the components costs across the spacecraft.
  • Assess implications of managing risks of using COTS parts in a Geo environment.


The study aims to examine new ways of approaching the innovation-heritage-risk equation in order to ensure Europe remains competitive with, for example, emerging platform providers abroad.

Identify cost reduction possibilities for the next generation of GEO telecoms missions.


The study focuses on ways of reducing costs associated to:

  • Procurement,
  • Qualification,
  • Radiation hardness requirements,
  • New approaches and technologies.


The project is split into two phases:

  • The study commences in Task 1 with a recurring cost breakdown of a typical European GEO mission and typical spacecraft in order to identify the overall technology cost drivers.
  • Task 2 involves a study of lower cost technologies and methods for GEO telecoms spacecraft with a focus on EEE components and associated costs. Within this task the cost of meeting the GEO radiation requirements and typical reliability requirements will be identified. this will include investigating:
    • Typical costs associated with, procurement and qualification of EEE parts required to meet the mission (lifetime, performance, radiation, quality) requirements.
    • Appropriate use of radiation tolerant parts rather than radiation hardened parts.
    • The use of lower cost technologies, for example, technologies destined for terrestrial use and associated delta-qualification and up-screening to ensure they can meet the space mission requirements.

Current status

The study was successfully closed in April 2010.

The decision to use COTS or Space Qualified parts is as much about the application as the parts themselves.

Considering COTS parts in isolation, from the part level only, generally means the use of a minimum risk approach and high levels of screening and testing. For a COTS part this can take as long and cost just as much as using a Space ready solution and so provides questionable cost or schedule advantages.

The initial evaluation performed during Task 2 highlighted that the use of Space Qualified parts may mean significant system re-design costs such where board area is restricted and a module size must be increased to accommodate the space solution. In these cases or where other significant technical advantage is provided then COTS parts can be cost effective. It is accepted that using high volumes of COTS parts in GEO may not be cost effective given the increased screening and testing requirements and the management overheads. In general where a space qualified part can perform the required function without a technical impact on the system or schedule it is the most pragmatic option.

Where COTS parts provide a technical advantage then total cost of ownership savings of typically 75% over the space qualified solution are possible. As a proportion of the overall spacecraft cost this may not be significant. However for SSTL where existing heritage is often used as the baseline for subsequent missions the use of physically larger space qualified parts may mean an increase in overall module size. In these cases there could be significant knock on costs for system re-design. If a component is used across a spacecraft and several modules need to increase in size the cost of increased mass, changes to structure, thermal or power systems may be significant and may entail many man-months of design work.

If 10% of all EEE parts used in a GEO mission were to be screened COTS and a 75% cost of ownership saving is considered then typical overall savings could be €300K for a small GEO satellite and €600K for a larger satellite (ref 3.1). The estimate for the use of 10% COTS parts is made by assuming that only this proportion of COTS parts will present a significant technical advantage in a GEO mission. A greater proportion of COTS parts may be used but the costs savings are liable to be less after screening and RVT is considered.

The overall project cost savings are liable to be greater if the use of COTS means no additional spacecraft level NRE is required as highlighted above. Where sufficient parts have been procured for subsequent flight use (F2, F3 etc) then cost savings are even greater since qualification / RVT does not have to be performed.

This study has highlighted that cost savings are possible when using COTS parts in selected, technically advantageous applications only. The screening performed so far has increased confidence that the down selected parts will meet requirements. The results of this specific study are not be enough to fully justify the entire selection and screening approach but show the general approach SSTL is developing for the selection and use of EEE parts in a GEO environment and that using COTS parts can provide useful cost savings.

Status date

Friday, February 24, 2012 - 13:45