Recently the European Space Agency (ESA) started its search for the technological advantage to improve their systems. Lead by research fellow Dr. Antxon Arrizabalaga, the project is aimed at studying the latest semiconductor technologies and exploring the impact they can have in the future of the space industry.

During its research, Dr. Antxon Arrizabalaga is looking forward to answer the following questions:

  • Which are the next system-level figures the space power industry wants to achieve?
  • Can the wide bandgap semiconductors help to achieve these figures?
  • Which semiconductor ratings are demanded by the space power industry for each application?

At the moment the research project lead by Dr. Arrizabalaga is focusing on the silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductor devices, as they are better suited for the requirements of the high-power applications. The team has already had several meetings with the main European space power companies discussing the points of interest mentioned above.

As a result, ESA received rich feedback with industry requirements and new ideas. And as anticipated, most of the companies are looking to the ways to increase power of their systems.

Thus, the following applications were mentioned the most:

  • Latching current limiters (LCL) for high power distribution
  • High-voltage (HV), increasing the traditional bus voltage, and high-power (HP) DC-DC converters
  • Rectification and synchronous rectification
  • HP motor drives
  • Very HV applications, around and over 1 kV
the ratings of the semiconductor devices required by the industry
the ratings of the semiconductor devices required by the industry, part 2

Figure 1. The ratings of the semiconductor devices required by the industry for each application

According to Dr. Arrizabalaga, ESA classifies innovations in three categories, according to the degree of innovation they bring when compared to the state-of-the-art:

  • Enhancing. It brings a substantial improvement to the state-of-the-art system.
    • Based on a technology replacement
    • For SiC devices it means replacing the Si devices in an existing application and optimizing the system to get system-level benefits
    • Low risk, development time and cost for manufacturers
    • Straightforward adoption by industry and high probability of success

  • Enabling. It will allow a new feature, new application, or even a new mission.
    • Critical technologies for a certain feature, application or mission
    • For SiC devices it means that without the adoption of such devices, the new desired feature, application or mission is no longer possible
    • Medium-high risk for manufacturers, higher development cost and effort, since it has never been done before
    • More challenging adoption by industry, and lower probability of success

  • Game-changing. It promises to bring entirely new capabilities (not considered for this study).
classification of the applications mentioned by the industry

Figure 2. Classification of the applications mentioned by the industry and the main drivers needed to be optimized for each application.

The European Space Agency research team is looking forward to support the successful adoption of the wide bandgap (WBG) power semiconductor devices by the European space power industry, giving the European industry a competitive edge.

Original – Dr. Antxon Arrizabalaga