Academic journal article Air Power History

Implosion: Lessons from Security, High Reliability Spacecraft, Electronics, and the Forces Which Changed Them

Academic journal article Air Power History

Implosion: Lessons from Security, High Reliability Spacecraft, Electronics, and the Forces Which Changed Them

Article excerpt

Implosion: Lessons from Security, High Reliability Spacecraft, Electronics, and the Forces Which Changed Them. By L. Parker Temple III. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-IEEE Press, 2013. Notes. Figures. Tables. Index. Pp. xxii, 346. $54.95 Paperback ISBN: 978-1118462423

During the latter half of the twentieth century, the commercial market for solid state electronics expanded rapidly. As equipment designers found ever more applications for these miniaturized, lightweight, power-saving devices, an explosion of demand drove their production rapidly upward. Cost per component dropped significantly as demand increased. Within this macro-phenomenon, a small niche market developed in which the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration paid a premium for solid state electronic parts, components, subsystems, and systems with especially high reliability for use in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), space launch vehicles, and orbiting satellites.

Implosion provides a detailed, analytical account of what Temple characterizes as a complex Darwinian evolution of solid state electronics from the quantum theory of electrons, through invention of the transistor, to high-reliability parts for U.S. national security and military space systems. Beginning with the Minuteman ICBM in the 1960s and extending over another couple decades to ever more durable satellites, an unseen hand responded to market forces and, at times, political pressures to create space-qualified or "Class S" parts. Even as increasing complexity of parts threatened reliability in the 1970s, the Air Force's Rome Air Development Center (RADC) played a key role in determining the physics of failure, developing standards, and teaching industry how to make parts highly reliable. Of course, stringent requirements combined with increasingly small production runs to drive up cost.

Control or containment of cost sowed the seeds for unintended and unanticipated consequences in the manufacture and supply of high-reliability parts. Emphasis by the Reagan administration during the 1980s on commercial space to cut government investment culminated, in the post-Cold War 1990s, with acquisition reform, the consequences of which were superficially understood. As Temple puts it, gutting reliance on standards and specifications, which were based on long experience with testing and failure analyses, cast acquisition of high reliability electronics into the same category as procurement of "bandages, tissues, and toothpaste. …

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