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Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) components and modules are assemblies, modules or parts designed for commercial applications for which the item manufacturer or vendor solely establishes and controls the specifications for performance, configuration, and reliability (including design, materials, processes, and testing) without additional requirements imposed by users and external organisations.

COTS for space

Space is becoming a more and more competitive sector, asking continuously for higher performance figures while reducing the overall cost from mission inception up to end of life decommissioning. This has consequences at all levels down to the selection and procurement of individual building blocks and components.

In parallel to this trend, electrical, electronic and electromechanical (EEE) parts designed for terrestrial applications such as automotive and other industrial sectors show high reliability when produced in massive quantities and while being subject to other industrial qualification schemes (for example, AEC-Q automotive standards).

Although some solutions matching space needs already exist, there is still a gap between space and terrestrial applications of components, and proper methodologies have yet to be developed and approved to allow a more systematic usage of COTS components and modules for space applications.

COTS for institutional space applications — the expected advantages

The expected advantages of COTS for institutional space applications are:

  1. Performance: where equivalent performance is not obtainable by classical high-reliability (Hi-Rel) components
  2. New Capabilities: where Hi-Rel components for performing a specific function don't exist yet
  3. Cost: typically for large volumes or low reliability/low radiation application where important risks might be taken
  4. Availability: benefit from production capability of supply chains for terrestrial use (in terms of modules)
  5. Time: shorter lead times and lower risk of part unavailability (though this advantage might not be always clear, depending on procurement scheme, taking into account of quick obsolescence cycle of COTS components and their limited shelf life)

COTS for institutional space applications — the challenge

The volume of COTS procurement for a specific spacecraft project is typically low and it is difficult to guarantee full traceability of the components. Radiation performance of the component in particular can differ substantially between the procurement lots even if the component type is the same. In this scenario, reproducibility of the radiation test results is challenging.


related ESA links, publications and webstories: