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Next-generation rad-hard space microprocessor to be defined by Air Force and NASA

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M.-U.S. Air Force and NASA experts are kicking off a program to define a next-generation, radiation-hardened microprocessor for space applications based on anticipated space computer needs from 2020 to 2030. The Air Force and NASA want to define a space-qualifiable rad-hard multicore processor architecture for manned and unmanned spacecraft.

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) released a presolicitation (BAA-RVKV-2013-02) for the Next Generation Space Processor (NGSP) Analysis program, which seeks to perform a three-month evaluation of anticipated space computer applications for 2020 to 2030, and then distill a set of goals for a future space microprocessor architecture.

Sponsoring the NGSP Analysis are the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate (AFRL/RV) and NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate-Game Changing Development (NASA/STMD-GCD) program. The NGSP Analysis program will produce a simulation model of the proposed processor architecture that will predict the processor's power use.

The U.S. Air Force and NASA are defining a next-generation, radiation-hardened microprocessor for future manned and unmanned spacecraft.
The U.S. Air Force and NASA are defining a next-generation, radiation-hardened microprocessor for future manned and unmanned spacecraft.

Benchmark applications will include autonomous pinpoint landing with hazard detection and avoidance during entry, descent, and landing of missions to the moon and Mars; real-time segmented mirror control for large space-based telescopes; onboard real-time analysis of multi-megapixel-level hyperspectral image data; autonomous onboard situational analysis and real-time mission planning; and real-time, model-based, spacecraft-level fault protection.

A follow-on program, potentially worth as much as $20 million, would develop a space microprocessor for high-performance space computing for advanced space missions through 2030. The microprocessor will be based on commercially available microprocessor technology modified for space applications, Air Force researchers say. High-speed Experts say they want the Next Generation Space Processor to execute several concurrent applications and parallel processing across the set of cores; have at least 24 processor cores that support 32-bit words, have at least one terabyte of memory, and support floating-point processing.

The next-generation space processor must perform 24 billion operations per second and 10 billion floating-point operations per second and consume no more than seven watts of power, with the ability to turn off unused cores and other resources. The processor must have a sleep mode in which it consumes no more than 100 milliwatts of power, and prevent errors by enforcing partitioning of groups of cores, interconnects, and memories into fault-containment regions.

The processor also must support DMA transfers between external I/O ports and external memory, and have a non-volatile memory boot ROM port able to boot the processor, four to eight DDR3/4 memory ports, eight 10-gigabit-per-second serial I/O ports, industry-standard interfaces, a generic serial interface that connects to an external protocol converter, such as a field-programmable gate array or custom device, and a serial interface to an FPGA or other reconfigurable co-processor.

The NGSP must have a dedicated test and debug interface; operate cascaded or tiled devices; have symmetric and asymmetric hypervisor software; run the Linux operating system; and have a C and C++ application software compiler.


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