NASA awards next-generation spaceflight compute processor contract

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“We are delighted that NASA has selected Microchip as a partner to develop the next-generation space-qualified compute processor platform,” said Babak Samimi, vice president of Microchip’s Communications Business Unit. “We are making a joint investment with NASA in a new reliable and transformative computing platform. It will provide full Ethernet networking, advanced AI/machine learning processing, and connectivity support while delivering unprecedented performance boost, fault tolerance, and an unprecedented low-power security architecture. of energy. We will foster an industry-wide ecosystem of single-board computer partners anchored on Microchip’s HPSC processor and space-qualified complete system solutions to benefit from a new generation of mission-critical edge computing designs optimized for size, weight and power.

Current space-qualified computing technology is designed to handle the most computationally intensive part of a mission – a practice that leads to overdesign and inefficient use of computing power. For example, a mission to the surface of Mars requires high-speed data movement and intense computations during the planetary landing sequence. However, routine mobility and scientific operations require fewer calculations and tasks per second. Microchip’s new processor architecture provides the flexibility for processing power to fluctuate with current operational needs. Some processing functions can also be turned off when not in use, reducing power consumption. This capability will save a large amount of power and improve the overall computing efficiency of space missions.

“Our current spaceflight computers were developed nearly 30 years ago,” said Wesley Powell, NASA’s lead technologist for advanced avionics. “While they have served past missions well, future NASA missions require significantly increased onboard computing capabilities and reliability. The new computing processor will provide the required advances in performance, fault tolerance and flexibility to meet these future mission needs.

Microchip’s HPSC processor may be useful to other government agencies and applicable to other types of future space missions to explore our solar system and beyond, from Earth science operations to Mars exploration and space missions. human moons. The processor could potentially be used for commercial systems on Earth that require advanced computing requirements similar to space missions and are able to continue operations safely if a system component fails. These potential applications include industrial automation, edge computing, time-critical Ethernet data transmission, artificial intelligence, and even Internet of Things gateways, which bridge various communication technologies.

In 2021, NASA solicited proposals for a commercial study for an advanced radiation-hardened computer chip with the intention of selecting a vendor for development. This contract is part of the NASA program High performance spatial computing project. The HPSC is led by the agency’s Space Technology Missions Directorate Game-changing development program with the support of the Scientific Missions Department. The project is being led by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

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