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Whisker Failures

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"Publicly" Reported Failure References

Tin (and Other Metal) Whisker Induced Failures
The following section provides a sample of publicly available references describing electronic system failures attributed to metal whiskers (tin, zinc, silver, etc.).  This list is NOT ALL ENCOMPASSING. A Whisker Anecdotes section has also been established to document whisker induced problems where more "formal" publicity is either unavailable or unwanted by the individuals/organizations contributing the information

Commercial Satellite Failures Military Failures Medical Failures
Industrial/Power Computers Anecdotes

 

On-Orbit COMMERCIAL (non-NASA) Satellite Failures 
The following commercial (non-NASA) satellites have reportedly suffered on-orbit failures of their satellite control processors (SCP) due to tin whisker induced short circuits where the whiskers grew on pure tin plated electromagnetic relays.  Each satellite was designed with a primary and one redundant SCP.  Failure of both primary and redundant SCPs results in a complete loss of the satellite's primary mission.

    Date When SCP Failure Occurred -- Suspected Root Cause = Tin Whisker Induced Short Circuit
Satellite Name Launch Date First Satellite Control Processor Failure Redundant Satellite Control Processor Failure
Complete Losses -- Both Primary and Redundant SCPs failed
GALAXY VII [PanAmSat] 27 October 1992  13 June 1998 22 November 2000
GALAXY IV [PanAmSat] 24 June 1993  (not caused by 'tin whiskers')  19 May 1998
SOLIDARIDAD 1 [SatMex] 19 November 1993  28 April 1999  27 August 2000
GALAXY IIIR [PanAmSat] 15 December 1995  21 April 2001 15 January 2006
Partial Losses- Only 1 of 2 Redundant SCPs failed
OPTUS B1 13 August 1992 21 May 2005 Still Operational
DBS-1 [DirecTV] 17 December 1993  4 July 1998 Still Operational
PAS-4 [PanAmSat] 3 August 1995  3rd quarter 1998 Still Operational
DirecTV 3 (DirecTV) 9 June 1995 4 May 2002 Still Operational

(Table Information Obtained from: Satellite News Digest)

Articles about Commecial (non-NASA) Satellite Failures:

LAUNCHES OF HUGHES HS 601 SATELLITES READY TO RESUME - (Hughes/Boeing Press Release August 1998)

DirecTV 3: 
Boeing BSS 601 DirecTV 3 Experiences SCP Glitch (Space and Tech.com - May 2002)
Anomaly on DirecTV 3 (Microcom's Space NewsFeed - May 2002)
Anomaly Noted On DIRECTV 3 Satellite (DirecTV Press Release - May 14, 2002)
Processor Problem Continues To Dog Boeing Satellites (e-inSITE.com - May 2002)
Anomaly Noted on DIRECTV 3 Satellite
(Hughes Press Release May 2002)

GALAXY VII:
PANAMSAT's GALAXY VII Satellite Ceases Operations: Full-Time Services are Not Affected (PanamSat Nov. 2000)
Galaxy VII Lost (Microcom's Space Newsfeed Nov. 2000)

SOLIDARIDAD 1:
Satmex’s Solidaridad HS 601 Fails (Space and Tech.com September 4, 2000)
Mexican Satellite Failure May Be Linked to Past Problem (SpaceViews Aug 2000)
$250 million Mexican satellite goes silent
(Florida Today Space Online - Aug. 29, 2000)

Satellite failure causes communications blackout

GALAXY IV
Pager Messages Lost in Space -Crucial Satellite Causes Widespread Trouble - (CNN.com  May 20, 1998)
National Public Radio Story - Satellite (NPR.org May 1998)
S. Silverstein, "Reasons for Failure Lost with Galaxy 4", Space News, Aug. 17-23, 1998, pp. 19-20
B. Nordwall, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Aug. 17, 1998, pp. 47

GALAXY III-R
Design flaw surfaces on PanAmSat's Galaxy 3R (Spaceflight Now.com - April 24, 2001)
Galaxy IIIR Shifts to Backup Control After Failure (Space and Tech.com - April 23, 2001)

Military Failures

  1. Military Airplane:  G. Davy, "Relay Failure Caused by Tin Whiskers", Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Technical Article, October 2002

  2. Patriot Missile:  Anoplate WWW Site:  "The Trouble With Tin: Get the Lead Out" (Fall 2000)

  3. Phoenix Air to Air Missile:  L. Corbid, "Constraints on the Use of Tin Plate in Miniature Electronic Circuits", Proceedings 3rd International SAMPE Electronics Conference, pp. 773-779, June 20-22, 1989.

  4. F-15 Radar:  B. Nordwall, "Air Force Links Radar Problems to Growth of Tin Whiskers", Aviation Week and Space Technology, June, 20, 1986, pp. 65-70

  5. U.S. Missile Program:  J. Richardson, and B. Lasley, "Tin Whisker Initiated Vacuum Metal Arcing in Spacecraft Electronics," Proceedings 1992 Government Microcircuit Applications Conference, Vol. XVIII, pp. 119 - 122, November 10 - 12, 1992.

  6. U.S. Missile Program:  K Heutel and R. Vetter, "Problem Notification: Tin Whisker growth in electronic assemblies", Feb. 19, 1988, memorandum

Medical Equipment Failures

  1. Heart Pacemaker Recall Food and Drug Administration March 1986

  2.  Apnea Monitor Failures:  J. Downs, "The Phenomenon of Zinc Whisker Growth and the Rotary Switch (or, How the Switch Industry Captured the Abominable Snowman)", Metal Finishing, August 1994, pp. 23-25  NOTE:  This issue is a ZINC Whisker failure!

Industrial/Power

  1. Westinghouse Nuclear Tech Bulletin TB-05-4, "Potential Tin Whiskers on Printed Circuit Board Components", June 8, 2005

  2. Westinghouse Nuclear Tech Bulletin TB-02-5, "(Tin Whiskers on Potentiometers used in) Basler Power Supplies", July 12, 2002

  3. P. Daddona, "Reactor Shutdown: Dominion Learns Big Lesson from a Tiny Tin Whisker", The Day (New London, CT), July 4, 2005

  4. C. Stevens, "Relay Failures Induced by the Growth of Tin Whiskers:  A Case Study", IEEE Boston Reliability Chapter 38th Annual Spring Reliability Symposium, May 16, 2001
  5. GE Power Management, "Technical Service Bulletin:  Tin Whiskers in MOD10 Relays", March 27, 2000
  6. Dr. B. Chudnovsky, "Degradation of Power Contacts in Industrial Atmosphere: Silver Corrosion and Whiskers", 48th IEEE Holm Conference on Electrical Contacts 2002
    NOTE:  This is a SILVER Whisker Issue!
  7. 2-Way Radio Receiver Sensitivity Issue Due to Metal Whiskers, HAM Radio Forum, Kevin Custer (W3KKC)

Summary of Metal Whisker Related "Events" Affecting the Power Industry
Source: “A Prioritization of Generic Safety Issues (NUREG-0933): Issue 200 – Tin Whiskers”, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Sept. 2007

Date Location Event
1987 Dresden Nuclear Trip of "B" Channel of RPS
1990 Duane Arnold Reactor Scram
1995 Duane Arnold Reactor Scram/Controlled Shutdown
1997 Dresden Nuclear Reactor Scram
1999 South Texas Project Reactor Pre-Trip Alarm
2005 Dominion Millstone  Reactor Trip - Tin Whiskers on Diode Terminals
  1. P. Daddona, "Reactor Shutdown: Dominion Learns Big Lesson from a Tiny Tin Whisker", The Day (New London, CT), July 4, 2005

  2. Photos of tin whiskers on diode terminals

Additional Metal Whisker Related "Events" Affecting the Power Industry

Date Location Event Source
1995 Not Specified Tin Whiskers in Relays Private Communication
1999 Foreign Plant Tin Whiskers in Relays Producing Three False Alarms/Plant Shutdowns Foxboro - tech paper 
2001 Foreign Plant Tin Whiskers on IC Leads Producing a Reactor Trip Anonymous Anecdote
2002 Not Specified Whiskers on Potentiometers Producing Power Supply Failures Westinghouse Nuclear Bulletin
2006 Not Specified Zinc Whiskers in Relays Private Communication
2006 Not Specified Tin Whiskers in Relays Private Communication

Computer Servers / Routers / Power Supplies / etc

  1. See the ZINC WHISKER section of this www site for LOTS of articles attributing system failures to ZINC WHISKERS from Raised Access Floor Tile
 
Responsible NASA Officials:

   Michael Sampson/NASA GSFC Code 306
   Dr. Henning Leidecker/NASA GSFC Code 562
Additional Researchers: 

   Jay Brusse/Perot Systems
Jong Kim/Orbital Sciences Corp.

Last Updated:

August 3, 2009

DISCLAIMER:
This website provides information about tin whiskers and related research. The independent research performed during the past 50+ years is so vast that it is impractical to cover all aspects of tin whiskers in this one resource. Therefore, the absence of information in this website about a particular aspect of tin whiskers should NOT be construed as evidence of absence.

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