A $50 million contract for a next-generation processor for use in space has been awarded (opens in a new tab) for Microchip Technology Inc. by Chandler, Arizona. Arm-based 32bit system and embedded microcontroller company, will design and deliver HPSC (High Performance Space Light Computer) (opens in a new tab)) processor more than three years.
This new processor is expected to provide at least 100 times the computing power of today’s space flight computers. While this may sound like a brag, the current state of space computing means it’s certainly not out of reach. NASA’s Orion reusable capsule uses a Honeywell aircraft that was originally built for use on Boeing 787s – a system that was 12 years old at the time of its launch in 2014. The point of computing spaceflight is not that they are particularly fast, but that they are reliable and fault tolerant.
The original Hubble Space Telescope DF-224 computer, built in the 1980s, was an 18-inch square three-CPU design weighing 110 lbs. It was augmented with the 16MHz Intel 386 in 1993 and the whole thing was replaced by the single 25MHz Intel 486 in 2000, while the world was wowed by the Pentium 4. In contrast, the Mars rovers carried the microprocessor. IBM’s logic is no different from that of the Apple G3 (although no one has ever irradiated a Powerbook).
“Our current space-based computers were developed nearly 30 years ago,” said Wesley Powell, NASA principal technologist for advanced avionics. “While they have served missions well in the past, future NASA missions require significantly increased computing power and reliability. The new PC processors will provide the necessary advancements in performance, fault tolerance, and flexibility to meet these future mission demands. “
It might not be a big name in the microprocessor world right now, but Microchip Technology has the expertise that could be useful in hostile space environments. Its PolarFire FPGA (field-programmable gate array) is radiation resistant and recently achieved MIL-STD-883 Class B certification, an environmentally, mechanically and electrically tested battery that serves as a stepping stone to obtaining the necessary certifications for use in space.
Founded in 1989, the company used to be the microelectronics division of General Instrument, but was spun off and went public in 1993. Along the way, it acquired many other companies, including Microsemi. , a manufacturer of aerospace and defense semiconductors, and New Zealand’s Tekron International. , helps to calculate accurate time and GPS devices.
Microchip will make a significant contribution to R&D for this deal. “We are delighted that NASA has chosen Microchip as a partner to develop the next generation space-qualified computer processor platform,” said Babak Samimi, corporate vice president of Microchip’s communications business. follow.
“We are jointly investing with NASA on a new transformative and reliable computing platform. It will provide comprehensive Ethernet networking, advanced artificial intelligence/machine learning processing, and connectivity support while delivering unmatched performance, fault tolerance, and a secure architecture with low consumption. low power. We will foster an industry-wide ecosystem of single-board PC partners tied to HPSC processors and Microchip’s additional space-qualified total system solutions to benefit for the new generation of critical edge computing designs optimized for size, weight, and power. “