Was fate the cause of a delayed Russian space launch that enabled SpaceX’s first cargo mission? Or was a contaminated electronics supply chain to blame?
One of the recurring challenges for chip-design companies is the cost of semiconductor intellectual-property (IP) theft and related patent litigation. In addition to huge economic expenses, these challenges often result in unpredictable opportunity costs for end-user markets further up the supply chain. Here’s but one example of this later cost:
“A glitch with a Russian Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft has helped clear the way for a private capsule’s first contracted cargo flight to the International Space Station early next month, NASA officials say.”
Counterfeit chips are a growing problem in the design of electronic systems. Such counterfeits are part of the shadow supply chain. Earlier this year, one case involved $16 million in counterfeit chips from China and Hong Kong that were sold under major brand names to almost all segments of the U.S. electronics industry – from mission-critical military and medical systems to consumer goods.
In February 2012, I covered the likelihood that counterfeit parts caused the ultimate loss of the Russian Phobos-Grunt unmanned space mission. Today’s story about a technical “glitch” that delayed a manned Soyuz Russian space launch made me wonder as to the cause of the problem. Could it once again be counterfeit electronic chips – perhaps even another faulty memory chip, as was suspected in the earlier failed mission? Shadow Supply Chain Demands System-Level Verification
To be fair, I note that these two incidents involve a different spacecraft and mission: Russia’s Phobos-Grunt unmanned space mission vs. the Soyuz TMA-06M manned spacecraft. Still, the parts supply chain for all of Russia’s space activities is probably the same. The critical quote in today’s news story does little to clarify the source of the recent problems: “But the Soyuz’s liftoff will be delayed by about a week while technicians install a replacement part to fix a technical issue, Russian space officials announced Sunday.”
Has the early contamination of the semiconductor supply chain again affected the Russian space program? It’s just too early to be sure. But a contaminated supply chain may take many years to clean up.
On a personal note, the launch vehicle for the SpaceX program reminds me of my earlier engineering career at Rocketdyne (now part of Boeing). The primary structure of the Falcon’s first stage is a blend of legacy Atlas and Delta rockets – tried and true workhorses of the US space program now long gone. Further, most of SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicles will use historic Titan rocket launchpads at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), among other locations. My father worked on Titan rockets as a Launch Engineer for many of the flights in the late ’50s and early ’60s. I can even remember watching a few launches from Vandenberg when I was very young. http://www.vandenberg.af.mil/