The global satellite and space exploration market grew by 27.4% in 2022, compared to the previous year and in total, launched over 185 spacecrafts into the atmosphere[i]. The market is expected to continue growing as the need for telecommunications, improved internet, security/defense, etc. become increasingly meaningful and crucial for everyday life.

This market is characterized by several large firms with a history in the aviation and the aircraft industry, such as Airbus and Boeing. In addition, the more recent entrants, Blue Origin and SpaceX have heavily invested in programs, as well as other small independent organizations. Overall, the industry is beginning to push the boundaries of space exploration and driving to produce new innovative solutions in the market.

Space exploration has historically been an incredibly expensive market to enter due to the initial investments required and the cost of launching missions. Therefore, efficiency improvements and weight reductions have been an increasingly important topic over the last decade and specifically for the radiation hardened DC-DC power converter industry.

The GaN-based SGRB Series hits the market

Up to now, silicon-based, radiation-hardened MOSFETs have been the industry standard for switching devices in DC-DC converters. However, MOSFETs were not capable of meeting these new needs for greater efficiency and decreased weight, in addition to, they were becoming more difficult to acquire. The recent entry of GaN FETs into the power electronics market has shown encouraging results for increasing overall efficiency and reducing the weight and size of a DC-DC converter design.

VPT Inc. has created the SGRB Series, the world’s first commercially available GaN-based, space-qualified DC-DC converter. VPT provides power conversion solutions for some of the world’s largest spacefaring organizations, for use in avionics, military, space, and industrial applications.

“We’ve been an early adopter of this technology and are investing heavily in research and development of GaN-based power systems,” says Jeremy Ferrell, Director of Engineering at VPT. “We see a continued interest for GaN technology in the most demanding commercial, scientific, and military space environments due to its 96% efficiency.”

The SGRB Series, the world’s first commercially available GaN-based, space-qualified DC-DC converter.
VPT’s SGRB Series, the world’s first commercially available GaN-based, space-qualified DC-DC converter.

How is the SGRB different from all other DC-DC converters in the market?

GaN technology marks an advancement on prior MOSFET transistor solutions due to three pivotal features of size, efficiency, and heat dissipation.

Size – Size and weight are considerable factors in any satellite power system since both are directly related to the launch cost. Overall GaN components are 3.5 times less in size compared to MOSFET. This reduction in space required on the PCB board translates into significant cost savings. By reducing the size of the converter, you reduce weight, and the overall costs of launching are thereby reduced. This coincides with an increase in the overall efficiency of the converter, resulting in a win-win scenario.

Efficiency – The low resistance of GaN devices means they generate less heat, reducing stress on both thermal mitigation systems and on power dissipation. VPT uses a reduced-voltage switching topology to optimize overall performance relative to size; tests show the new converters can achieve efficiency of up to 96%, dwarfing standards set by silicon MOSFETs.

Heat dissipationAs the efficiency of a converter increases, less heat needs to be dissipated. This also translates into less materials required, and a reduction in weight and costs. Further, if a converter is more efficient, it requires less power, and more energy is saved resulting, again, in less heat.

SGRB features

In the space environment it is more difficult to source power and dissipate heat, and this is where the GaN-based SGRB really comes into its own, with its efficiency of 96%.

Additional features of the innovative VPT SGRB Series:

  • Radiation tolerant to TID (Total Ionising Dose) 100k rad (Si), including Enhanced Low Dose Rate Sensitivity (ELDRS), and Single Event Effects (SEE) performance to 85 MeV/mg/cm2.
  • Radiation hardened design for long-term reliability, ensuring it is the perfect choice for space payload or primary spacecraft bus applications requiring high efficiency and low noise.
  • Award-winning power conversion solutions can also be used for a wide range of other high-power applications.
  • The SGRB Series comes with VPT’s extensive history of space flight heritage and proven performance, delivering dependable performance for demanding missions.
  • Advanced fixed frequency reduced voltage switching topology ensures the SGRB12028S produces extremely low input and output noise levels.

Download the white paper below to learn more about the size and efficiency improvements of using GaN FETs in VPT’s SGRB Series of power conversion products.

[i] GlobalData Industry Profile: Global Satellites and Space Launches February 2023