If a developed electronics/board/chip/etc. wanted to have a space/flight heritage, is there any typical way to get that?

Edit: As some mentioned I was not clear, I'm talking from a manufacturer point of view. Let's say I designed some On Board Computer and I want to prove that it is working by getting flight heritage.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you asking about how a manufacturer of a device can get that device certified as space-qualified, or are you asking about how a buyer of such a device can ascertain whether the device truly is space-qualified? My answer assumes you are asking about the latter. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ As we used the term, space heritage meant having been flown in space. If that is what you want, you need to convince somebody flying to carry your equipment. Different people have different ideas of how important flight heritage is. Lower budget, shorter missions are not as worried about flight heritage as others, so those could be better targets. You need to have a reason someone should fly your equipment. Is it better than what has been used? Is it cheaper? $\endgroup$ Jul 24 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ There are several different interpretations of your question. Consider an edit to clarify your intended meaning. My reading of it was the same as @RossMillikan's, in which case the question didn't make much sense. $\endgroup$ Jul 24 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Looks to me like the question is asking how can it be established that a component has been used in a space vechicle to establish its usage (hertitage) of having been used in space. Not asking how to establish spaceworthiness certifications. $\endgroup$
    – tckosvic
    Jul 24 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Like any other product, you need to explain to prospective customers what advantage your product has over the others on the market. For most missions the flight computer is a utility. It just has to work. Customers may have established software for the computer they are using. Why should they change? If yours is faster than the current ones, you need to research what missions need the extra speed. If you can find a mission that will work with yours and not with what is out there, your chances are much better. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 4:40

3 Answers 3


I don't know about other countries, but in the US and in Europe, you pay for it. You pay a lot for it. Oftentimes there's not a whole lot of difference between (for example) an aerospace quality fastener with the paperwork that shows provenance and a near equivalent faster that does not come with all that paperwork. Sometimes they are exact equivalents. But at other times, they are not. The quality and source materials may vary in the non-certified fasteners.

What you are paying for as a buyer of those aerospace quality fasteners is a guarantee by the provider and for a reduced legal liability on your part. Suppose (for example) said fastener fails and results in the loss of a very expensive launch and its payload. Suppose it can be shown that the company that provided it lied about the provenance. The result will be lawsuits galore. The company that provides that aerospace quality fastener charges more (a whole lot more) in part because of the paperwork chain, in part for taking on an increased legal liability, and in part for internal reviews, etc., to ensure that they are providing what they promised they would provide.

While I used fasteners as an example, the concept is much broader than that. The buyer of aerospace quality device is paying for guaranteed quality, guaranteed provenance (with paperwork attached), and reduced legal liability. All of this comes at a cost.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd be paying for whom? someone already launching a satellite and I ask him to use my - let's say - fasteners? $\endgroup$ Jul 24 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MohamedAbduljawad: That's one way. Or you'd pay someone to build and launch a cubesat or something with your fasteners on it, purely as a tech demo to show that they work in space. But before that you'd probably first pay a testing and certification lab to test your fasteners as rigorously as possible on earth (with vacuum chambers and radiation beams etc). And you'll also be implementing lots of internal quality control to make sure that the fasteners you'll be selling later will be exactly like the ones that flew in space. And you'll be paying for someone to audit and certify all that. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen are there specific firms for such solutions? $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 14:17

Are you asking whether there is a list or database of part numbers for parts which have space related test data?

NASA does have some publicly available reports and databases showing test results for certain parts. One example is...


Which shows test results for parts subjected to radiation environments.

As for knowing exactly what chips were used on any modern space designs, that information comes from the bill of materials for components manufactured by aerospace companies. The bill of materials is usually confidential and protected by ITAR rules, so not publicly available.


“Any typical way to get that?”

If I had to generalize about “typical,” I would say… a design lead selects your component for whatever reason, be it lack of competition (true leading-edge, or literal lack of competitors), serious price advantage (sometimes involving package deals or other wrangling), logistical issues (supply shortage or delivery holdup or schedule crunch), etc.

Then the senior manager/Principal Investigator/Colonel/whatever has to sign off on the implications of a component without flight heritage. Environmental testing, which may likely include radiation, certainly for ICs. Reliability, likely including lifetime. Contamination- at minimum, volatiles/outgassing (though that may turn out to be a paperwork-only “test”), plus others I’m sure will come to me after I’ve written this. All these involve a supply of test articles/spares, typically from different lots. Depending on the test, some high levels of certification may involve hundreds or possibly thousands of test runs, to provide statistical significance. Some programs will also have a paperwork review (Quality Engineering)- a test of the testing.

You may have guessed that we don’t fly components without heritage very often- if there is a schedule crunch on a component or subassembly, then there’s definitely a schedule crunch on a different kluge for that component or subassembly. We certainly have to think on our feet in such situations. However, the primary way we deal with situations like that is to try not to get into them in the first place- proper planning and management to anticipate and avoid getting ourselves into a situation. What this means is conservatism- in some cases, ridiculous conservatism. “You can’t fly until you fly,” goes the slogan/bad joke. Space designs are YEARS behind terrestrial hardware, and Moore’s Law (in general) doesn’t apply. If we’re unlucky, a part/subsystem issue appears where we didn’t anticipate, which is how flights get delayed, sometimes by quarters or a year. (And Odin forbid you work on a planetary mission- your launch window will close, not to open again for however long.)

You may have also guessed that this is an untenable situation- the “You can’t fly until you fly“ tautology can’t be literally true. Some projects bite the bullet and provide the heritage for something new, and the rest of the industry quietly thanks them for taking the hit. This is more likely for designs with redundancy (likely triple redundancy), or simply less to lose. Some projects exist mostly or entirely for putting new technologies over the TRL hump- “flight demonstrators” or “risk reduction.” These are projects where the failure of the component/process just won’t have long-term or large-scale consequences, so the risks just aren’t that risky. Some of these risk reduction projects are sounding rockets/balloons, which may get enough altitude to claim sufficient vac, UV, hard-rad, etc. exposures (though not lifetime/cycling, of course). And of course, some programs just have that much money/schedule that they can do the part testing.

And of course, one way to get aerospace heritage is to consolidate your market, by buying the competition/getting bought/etc. Then you can pretty much force the customer to accept you, and all the implications. This is the typical way of terrestrial hardware called “cable TV.”


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