By Scott Leithem, Services Integration and Business Development Engineer, Keysight Technologies, Inc.;
and Richard Soden, B.Eng., Ph.D., Application Engineer, Keysight Technologies, Inc.
Reducing Cost in Satellite
Development through a Holistic
Approach to Device Test
Systematic methods from the design phase streamlines the satellite testing process.
Traditionally, the space industry has been highly risk- averse, due in large part to the high cost of projects. The NewSpace industry, which describes recent
emergence of private-sector funding in space activities, takes
an entirely different approach to challenges and economics of
the space industry.
The emergence of NewSpace companies with satellite
launch capabilities has put pressure on the costs from
established commercial launch providers. It’s also adjusted
the requirements for on-board electronics that can be put into
orbit. With a cost of launch reduced, it is becoming easier to
replace technologies over time, hence why satellite designers
need not look to reduce risk to zero, but can calculate risks
and make design adjustments accordingly. This “fly/re-try”
philosophy opens the door for new commercial enterprises
bringing a different approach to satellite technologies. Other
missions with more investment in satellite functionality or
where distances are far greater, will still require a level of risk
reduction that may be cost prohibitive for the moment.
As the barriers to entry are lowered and space becomes more
accessible, more technologies can be usefully deployed in orbit.
There is a risk, however, with the deployment of emergent
technologies by developing companies that the approach to
testing may prove inefficient, expensive, and may not even meet
the application’s needs.
Even to the most experienced engineer, reducing the cost
of test is challenging. There are many testing stages required
throughout the life cycle of a satellite payload design. It’s
advisable to create a model that could apply to any stage of the
life cycle, from design and validation, to manufacturing and
The simplified model (shown in Figure 1), separates
the cost of test into four distinct categories: “Test Step
Cost,” “Diagnostics and Repair” (or redesign of the payload
components and/or systems), “Overhead” and constant costs,
along with “Product Waiting.” It’s advisable to create a model
that could apply to any stage of the life cycle, from design and
validation, to manufacturing and final certification.
A common approach is to simply determine which individual
variables have the greatest impact on reducing cost of test.
For every stage of the product life cycle, a new test system is
defined that implements changes needed to reduce costs. Once
the design is in place, variables in the cost of test model begin
to become fixed, making it difficult or nearly impossible to
make any changes. In addition, as needs arise for more complex
systems with wider bandwidths, looking at individual variables
The solution to this problem is twofold: first, rather than
looking at individual variables in the cost of test model, it’s
best to look at the entire test system. Second, design the test
systems while defining product requirements, rather than as the
To demonstrate the value of looking from a system and
product life cycle level, we’ll consider three specific ways to
reduce cost of test: time reduction, increasing accuracy, and
confidence. It’s easy to associate reducing time with increasing
measurement speed or accuracy with buying an instrument
containing better specifications. Taking a system level approach
has the greatest impact on test costs. To reduce time from
a system level, consider the overall program schedule, from
product design and development, through manufacturing
and delivery. Instead of focusing on improving instrument
level accuracy, consider improving the whole test system’s
accuracy. Instead of trying to increase confidence for a single
measurement, consider working to improve the consistency of Figure 1: Simplified model of the cost of test.