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I've got a Satellite modem with a connector that mates with a tiny 10pin by 10pin Samtec SS4 series surface mount connector.

The question is, how would I prototype with this component? I am thinking I will need to get a custom breakout board created and someone with precision equipment to solder the socket onto it for me?

Iridium modem and SS4 socket strip

Essentially, the strip has a centre-to-centre pin pitch of just 0.4mm and head pin is 0.23mm in width, making the distance between pins a tiny 0.17mm.

More information on the socket: http://www.samtec.com/documents/webfiles/cpdf/SS4-XX-X.XX-X-D-X-XX-TR-FOOTPRINT.pdf

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When having to use connectors like these, and the associated high tech parts that tend to be used with them, it is often advisable to rethink and re-define what prototyping actually means. I would suggest that rather than get hung up on breakout boards that you consider a first pass at your circuit board design to be your prototype. Use all the part footprints that are for the target parts for your assembly. Feel free to add what ever additional test access connections and debug hardware as required to this initial design. This approach has many advantages including a main one that it puts the parts into the actual configuration they will be for your final product so that you are testing something real as opposed to debugging ghost problems on some cobbled together "quick setup".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Michael. This is what I've been leaning towards and thinking may be the solution. We essentially have 90% of the final product prototyped, it's just this one component we've not been able to test. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael P Oct 22 '12 at 4:03
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You can probably make such a breakout using laser toner transfer techniques - it might take a few tries before you get the hang of getting one intact, but once you figure it out it has a fairly high yield rate. Making the pads longer than recommended may help with hand solderability, especially if you go with a prototype fab that applies solder mask such that the traces themselves aren't solderable extensions of the pads.

The real secret to soldering something like that by hand is to not try to solder the individual pins, but to get just the right amount of solder on a larger iron tip, and flux well, so that surface tension causes the solder to wet the individual contacts and not bridge between the several which the iron is touching at any given time.

You probably will bridge a few, but it's no big deal to fix. Sometimes re-application of the iron with a wiping motion towards the traces will cause the excess to flow there and remove the bridge. If not, very fine copper braid (the smallest you can find) will absorb the solder, though it may take a bit longer than you expect to heat it up to flow temperature. Fluxing the braid helps if it is not pre-treated.

A binocular microscope can be a great help since the focal length tends to be long enough that you can actually work under it, but a cheap 10x loupe is fine for up close post inspection and will help find problems you might have to go back and fix.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Chris, just busted out a quick layout using Eagle and unfortunately given the tiny spacing of 0.17mm I don't think this is feasible as my laser printer doesn't look even enough with the printed lines being slightly out. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael P Oct 22 '12 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Try exporting from Eagle to a graphics program at 600 or 1200 dpi. Also make sure to set the export to monochrome, and at that resolution export only the window which should be zoomed on your circuit, otherwise the result will be huge. Oh, and don't forget to mirror it before printing, though with a connector it might be symmetric anyway. I've made many prototypes with .5mm centers this way with the cheapest personal laserjet ever sold, .4mm should be possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Oct 22 '12 at 4:23

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