Home >> May 2008 Edition >> EXECUTIVE SPOTLIGHT ON... Gregory Smolka
Vice President, Industrial, Military and Space, Vectron International

Gregory L. Smolka is responsible for growing Vectron’s strong market positions in test and measurement, medical imaging, process control and other industrial applications while reinforcing the company’s leadership position in defense and space markets. He has nearly 20 years experience in worldwide marketing and sales of high technology in multiple markets, including medical imaging, industrial, communications, homeland security, and military. Prior to joining Vectron in 2007, Mr. Smolka held management positions with Axsun Technologies, the Industrial and Defense business unit at Bookham Technologies, Big Sky Laser Technologies, and Texas Instruments.

We had an opportunity to discuss with Mr. Smolka the role that Vectron has for the space industry, with particular focus on the impact Vectron’s patented EMXO technology has in the satellite and aerospace industry.

Gregory, could you start this interview by giving us an overview of Vectron’s history in the space industry?

Gregory Smolka
Certainly. Vectron’s heritage of providing frequency control solutions to the military and space markets spans more than six decades. The company’s proven, high quality and high reliability solutions are represented in the military and space programs of industry leaders that include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Harris, Raytheon, ITT, Boeing, NASA, Honeywell, as well as international customers such as ISAC, Thales Alenia Space, and Astrium.

Vectron’s timing solutions have been designed in various military, communication and scientific satellite applications, including the Mars Pathfinder, Iridium satellites, and Globalstar satellites, as well as in military radios, aircrafts, as well as radar and missile applications.

In short, Vectron has fully dedicated its resources to providing premier frequency control solutions to the space industry ever since the company’s inception. Today, we offer a full line of space qualified frequency control products including clocks, oscillators, VCXOs (Voltage Controlled Crystal Oscillators), TCXOs (Temperature Controlled Crystal Oscillators)s, OCXOs (Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillators), EMXOs (Evacuated Miniature Crystal Oscillator), and filters.

The aerospace market has been evolving a great deal over the past decade. From the components provider perspective, what are the key changes you have seen?

Gregory Smolka
The industry continues to drive towards smaller footprints and lower power consumption, while simultaneously demanding higher performance. In addition, robust, reliable performance in harsh environments is a necessity. Vectron is addressing this trend by combining our unparalleled expertise and experience in the crystal oscillator industry with our state-of-the-art fabs to offer customers innovative solutions that address such challenging trends.

It is also exciting to be a part of the industry at a time when companies are investing more in creating innovative products to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. For example, we’re now delivering MEMS based oscillators capable of operation, after shock, of up to 30,000 g’s. Other programs have us developing and delivering frequency control products that must operate at temperatures of over 200 degrees C.

In addition, power consumption, which continues to be a huge driver for many markets, is especially important for space applications. One of the most significant developments from Vectron in this space has been the emergence of our patented EMXO technology, which was originally developed and optimized to address this and other precise needs of space contractors.

Please give us an overview of what EMXO technology is and why it was developed?

Gregory Smolka
We developed our EMXO technology to answer customer demand for a high-performance, high-stability oscillator with significantly lower power consumption with a package size less than oven controlled crystal oscillators (OCXOs) that are traditionally used for space applications, such as satellite deployments.

As you may know, many companies in the military and space industries use OCXOs because they can meet the stringent frequency vs. temperature requirements required by these applications. OCXOs perform better than basic crystal oscillators (XOs) or Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillators (TCXOs). Because OCXOs control the temperature of the crystal with an oven, they can keep the temperature of it and the component’s critical circuits constant, even as the outside temperature fluctuates.

However, while an OCXO can improve a crystal’s inherent stability by more than 5000 times, the oven control system comes at a cost: a larger package and more than 200 times the power consumption of an XO or TCXO.

Increasingly, more and more of our space customers have been demanding smaller and less power-hungry devices that could “get the job done” as well as an OCXO. The EMXO, designed and patented at Vectron’s Mil/Space Center of Excellence in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania addresses this need by delivering a solution four times smaller than a comparable OCXO and with a third of the power consumption.

Over the years, we’ve continually improved and enhanced this technology to meet the changing needs of our mil and space customers. The latest iteration of these EMXO oscillators offers radiation tolerance to more than 100 kRads(Si) total dose, lower power consumption rates (less than 0.7 W at 25 degrees Celsius and less than 1.1 W at -40 degrees Celsius) and an impressive warm-up speed (3 minutes at 25 degrees Celsius). EMXOs also offer a ten-fold improvement in stability compared to similarly sized temperature controlled crystal oscillators (TCXOs).

Who stands to benefit from this technology?

Gregory Smolka
Our EX-245, released last year, is aimed at satellite applications where power and size are critical to operation. With this product, OCXO stability is maintained, while size and power consumption are minimized. The result is the best combination of size and performance in the industry.

In general, our EMXO is ideally suited for any application requiring small size, low power consumption, and fast warm-up time. The smaller size and lower power consumption available with these EMXOs makes them ideal for portable and battery-powered applications. In fact, our EMXO has been successfully designed into portable test equipment as well as military man-pack radios.

How does the size of EMXOs compare to OCXOs?

Gregory Smolka
Space customers are always concerned with minimizing their payload and Vectron’s EMXOs allow them to do just that. The EX-245, for example, is about one-quarter the size of a conventional OCXO, without sacrificing performance.

Our EMXOs are smaller because the unique cold weld dip package provides the hermiticity necessary to allow the use of an open blank SC cut crystal, eliminating the crystal package and minimizing the mass to reduce the power consumption.

Are their any other industries in which EMXO technology might be applicable?

Gregory Smolka
Our EMXOs have broad applicability wherever high performance is needed and size and power are constrained. Portable test instrumentation, for example, is a great fit, as manufacturers are designing very sophisticated, high performance instruments in small, portable battery-powered configurations. EMXOs are also well suited for manpack radios, which require an oscillator with fast warm-up time, small size, and low power consumption. Also, in the world of medical instrumentation, where the trend is towards greater portability, our EMXOs are ideal for driving the performance of the new portable, battery-powered imaging instruments..

Can you name three trends or technological advances we can expect to see in the space industry in the next five years?

Gregory Smolka
Size reduction continues to be a driver in the industry. As a result, we expect MEMS products, which are currently starting to be deployed in commercial and military applications, will eventually show up in satellite applications, as well. We’re active in this space today and will be releasing our first military MEMS oscillators later this year.

We are also seeing a trend with our customers towards higher levels of frequency control integration. Smaller engineering staffs and compressed development schedules for the primes means that they are asking their development partners to take on more of the design load. Now, rather than simply buying an oscillator, for example, customers are increasingly looking for complete timing modules. With our broad product lines ranging from crystals, filters, clocks, VCXOs, TCXOs to EMXOs, our strong engineering capabilities and six decades of involvement in this market, we’ve been able to combine products and develop these integrated solutions for our customers.

Clearly, the technology will continue to move forward at a rapid pace. I’m confident that the investments we’ve made in our people, our factories, and infrastructure as well as in continued innovation will allow us to help our customers grow their businesses.

Editor’s Note:
To learn more about crystal oscillators and their space capabilities, Visit:
http://www.vectron.com/whatsnew/space/index.htm, Vectron’s space products information page.