Design data management system
DKB Resources
Santa Barbara, CA

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) contracted DKB Resources to support the design of many of the printed circuit boards (PCBs) on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity using the company’s automated design data management system that tracks and streamlines communications among all the groups responsible for the PCBs. DKB also provided PCBs for the Phoenix Mars surface probe that landed in 2008, and the Curiosity Rover in the forthcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Program.

The data management process is based on Altium Designer electronics design software from Altium (Belrose, Australia). DKB maintains JPL’s 600-plus-page rulebook of requirements and guidelines for all programs that include breadboards, engineering modules, and flight modules. A custom-designed rule check program automates the checking of entire designs specific to JPL requirements. The entire team can rely on the design data management system to track engineering change orders, design rule checks, and each set of changes.

The automated checking capability was used on the MSL Program, the next generation of rovers being readied for exploration on the surface of Mars. JPL was not able to borrow very much intellectual property (IP) from any of the previous flight designs, so the program came with brand-new design requirements that were yet to be proven. This contrasts with the Spirit and Opportunity designs, in which JPL and DKB Resources were able to reuse many of the flight board designs from previous missions. This change in flow required many iterative changes, and the design data management system was responsible for tracking all of them. The system also provided the appropriate data formats so design teams on both sides could collaborate. Mechanical engineers had their view of the board, electrical engineers had another, and proram management looked at the project from a higher level. Finally, the resulting design was automatically transformed into Gerber files for manufacturing and testing.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the May, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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