There are now PCB fabricator companies. You mail or post to them your Gerber files and pay them, and they ship you the boards 16 days later. This is, in a word, awesome. Yes, some makers may prefer to make their own masks and pour out chemicals to etch their own boards, but we are focusing on building a satellite, not smithing your own parts. We are in a golden age of DIY electronics!
My plan was to cheaply acquire good-quality PCB boards sufficient for two TubeSats—the mission satellite and a flight spare. Many companies can turn your plans into small quantities of finished PCB boards, at reasonable cost, in just a few weeks. What is reasonable cost? For boards a few inches in size, as low as $25 for a single board. This is the result of my “experiment” trying multiple PCB fabricators. Ultimately I settled on three best candidates and then checked who delivered the best final product.
For my Calliope satellite, I started with the eight printed circuit boards (PCBs) fabricated for the solar cells. These cells are also the main satellite structural beams. The specs: these solar cell panels are about 1 inch × 4 inches. The satellite needs 8 of them, which means I need 10 (2 spares in case I screw up). Oh, actually, I want 20—enough for a flight spare. (See Figure 2-1.)
Figure 2-1. Fabricated PCB boards, only $40 each and 5 weeks for delivery
For those of you too impatient ...