Air Force teams to build radiation-proof outer space system chips

NASA, Intel and others all work toward radiation-hardened space systems

Xilinx Virtex
The Air Force today said it has teamed with logic vendor Xilinx to build a high-density chip that promises to reduce costs, improve satellite circuitry and withstand the major impact outer space radiation.

The Xilinx Virtex-5QV field programmable gate array is one of the industry's first high performance radiation-hardened chip for space processing systems and is 1,000 times less sensitive to space radiation than the commercial equivalent, the company claimed. In September, several major satellite builders will receive Virtex-5 QV prototypes as part of an early access program, the company stated.

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According to Xilinx, ASICs were the only solution available to system designers of high-performance space applications with long development and fabrication times as well as high non-recurring engineering costs. The chip would also allow last-minute design changes and redesigns after launch, the company stated.  

"An FPGA has a huge, positive impact on spacecraft project funding as there can be up to an 80 % savings in electronic hardware expenses.  We wanted to do things efficiently and focus on affordability," said Creigh Gordon, the senior electronics engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate. "One way to accomplish both is to use field programmable gate arrays as the basis for satellite computers. By doing so, the cost for the non-recurring (research and development) significantly decreases."

The radiation-hardened version of the commercial Xilinx Virtex-5 FPGA was developed under sponsorship by Space Vehicles Directorate and has been in development for about five years.

Xilinx has worked with NASA and others to develop space computer system components.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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