NASA approaches industry for radiation-hardened ASIC designs able to withstand rigors of mission to Jupiter

BY JOHN KELLER

PASADENA, Calif.-Scientists at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are reaching out to industry to find companies able to design radiation-hardened application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) able to withstand 2.9-megarad total ionizing dose radiation during a proposed 10-year mission to the Europa moon of Jupiter.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., issued a request for information (RFI TY-10-06) on behalf of NASA for the JPL Radiation Hardened Application Specific Integrated Circuits In Support Of Jupiter Europa Orbiter Mission project to identify potential contractors able to design, build, and test rad-hard ASICs for the planned Jupiter Europa Orbiter, scheduled to launch in 2020 and arrive at Europa, Jupiter's innermost moon, in 2025.

The radiation environment around Jupiter is intense. Jupiter is roughly 10 times the size of the Earth, while its magnetic moment is nearly 20,000 times stronger, and Europa lies within this radiation belt. NASA scientists estimate the radiation environment at 2.9 megarads total ionizing dose (TID) behind 100-mil-thick aluminum. This level is more than twice that required for U.S. defense systems that are required to operate through nuclear explosions, and seven times greater than any previous NASA mission.

The Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) is a joint NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) mission that would consist of two flight elements exploring the Jovian system: the NASA-led Jupiter Europa Orbiter, and the ESA-led Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter, which would explore the Jovian system before settling into orbit around Jovian moons Europa and Ganymede. The Europa orbiter will impact the surface of Europa after the mission is completed.

Computer hardware for NASA's planned mission to the Europa moon of Jupiter must have the same radiation hardness as U.S. defense systems.

The Jupiter Europa Orbiter and Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter mission concepts include 11 and 10 instruments, respectively, to monitor Ios volcanoes and Jupiter's atmosphere, map the Jovian magnetosphere and its interactions with the Galilean satellites, and characterize water oceans beneath the ice shells of Europa and Ganymede.

The Jupiter Europa Orbiter flight system is comparable in size and complexity to other spacecraft for similar missions, such as Cassini or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The concept would feature full redundancy for engineering functions, three-axis stabilized pointing, radioisotope power source with batteries for peak power management, bi-propellant chemical propulsion, a large gimbaled high gain antenna, and X-band and Ka-band transponders for tracking, telemetry, and precision Doppler measurements.

The proposed 10-year mission would require all electronic components be radiation hardened to a minimum of 300 kilorads, although NASA would consider lower tolerance levels if no alternatives exist. Mission assurance and risk mitigation requirements of the Jupiter Europa Orbiter mission needs ASICs that are designed and verified with the most robust, thorough, and effective process possible to withstand the harsh radiation environment encountered during the mission lifetime, NASA officials say.

NASA electronics engineers will use field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to design Europa orbiter electronics, and translate the FPGA designs to rad-hard ASICS for flightworthy hardware. ASIC providers interested in this RFI should address translating the FPGA design format, analog intellectual property cores, architecture, and radiation-mitigation schemes to the candidate ASIC manufacturing process for mixed-signal and digital-only designs.

Companies interested should respond by e-mail to the JPL's Mary Helen Ruiz at maryhelen.ruiz@jpl.nasa.gov. It is a request for information, and not a request for formal proposals.

more information is online at https://www.fbo.gov/spg/NASA/HQ/OPHQDC/TY-10-06/listing.html.

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February 2014
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