I was reading CubeSat 101 (https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/nasa_csli_cubesat_101_508.pdf) wondering if the electronics components needed to be special for space but it says nothing about the actual parts that make up the electronics. I've run into "radiation hardened" FPGAs in the past and I assumed they were for space application but I was just guessing. My question is for regular stuff like resistors, caps (maybe not electrolytic, I assume they'll vent) and MCUs. Like ... can I use a PIC24 or PIC16/18 without issues or are there special MCUs for space applications?

EDIT: I think this post answers the MCU part of my question: (space-grade microcontrollers)

What about the resistors, ceramic caps, inductors, etc? Do all active components (MCU, transistors, etc) have to be special?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Think of the extreme temperatures this stuff is exposed to and look at the temperature ratings of the "regular" components. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    May 4, 2021 at 16:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ The whole topic of designing for space is, at least at its better moments, a highly complex set of boundary conditions. The balancing act is never done as well as one might wish. Heat is always an issue. LEO is relatively better protected against some radiation effects, exposed to others, and has it's own unique issues relative to deep space. Long term (30 yrs and more) is a very difficult problem as other issues like "brown crud" start to dominate. (Spacecraft are in a charged environment and over time have their own molecules smashed into ions that interact.) \$\endgroup\$
    – jonk
    May 4, 2021 at 16:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ No that's not correct. Inside the space bus there is room temperature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Miss Mulan
    May 4, 2021 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MissMulan - there's a "space bus"? Where do I get a ticket for a ride? Where are the bus stops?? \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    May 4, 2021 at 16:52
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @MissMulan And what about the satellite itself after deployed? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eugene Sh.
    May 4, 2021 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


No, commercial off the shelf (COTS) can be used on cubesats, but YMMV. I have designs that have flown on cubesats with COTS parts on them in space in LEO orbits (most of the components were commercial parts from companies like TI and linear devices).

However there are issues with using COTS parts in space:

  1. They could outgas/release volitiles (which is a problem in space)
  2. Some parts might have issues with vacuum environments (certain materials like PVC can disintegrate in a vacuum) this means you have to do a material check on each part and check vacuum compatibility which may not be possible because the information is not in the datasheet or available from the manufacturer. (then you have to do your own testing or guess)
  3. Parts that are not radiation hardened will be more prone to Single Even Upsets (SEU's) semiconductors\transistors can get switched by radiation or 'stuck on' which can kill designs. Rad hard parts have usually been designed and tested against radiation (some of the parts are tested at radiation facilities).
  4. COTS parts do not have as wide operating or absolute temperature ratings (in general) as industrial\military or Rad-hard parts. This means you have to have better thermal control on a satellite with COTS parts, it also means that if the satellite gets to hot or too cold it could kill your parts you can still get SEU's but the probability is much lower or the effects will be mitigated.

More and more parts are being made available in space grade or rad hard versions and there are pluses and minuses to using rad-hard parts (rad hard parts are limited and generally older designs). It also depends on the orbital environment (different orbits have different radiation levels).


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