NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission to yield new information on rad-hard electronics

By John Keller
Posted by John Keller

NASA is working with industry and academia to do the most comprehensive-ever mapping of the radiation belts around Earth so that space experts have a clear idea of the locations and intensities of radiation concentrations to help future satellites and manned spacecraft effectively avoid them.

NASA launched two test and instrumentation satellites in August on the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission to learn in minute detail how the radiation belts are populated with charged particles, what causes them to change, and how these processes affect the upper reaches of the atmosphere around Earth.

NASA will use information from the two-year mission to better protect satellites and understand how space weather affects communications and technology on Earth. The mission also is helping researchers in the microelectronics industry learn even more about radiation-hardened electronics .

"We get single-event upsets every time we go through those belts," says Brian Orlowski, program manager of space products at rad-hard electronics designer BAE Systems Electronic Systems in Manassas, Va.


BAE Systems is providing rad-hard synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) and chalcogenide random-access memory (CRAM) chips that are part of the radiation-measuring instruments and other electronics aboard the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission satellites.

This mission also is the first space flight of qualified CRAM chips, Orlowski says. Chalcogenide is an alloy of germanium antimonide and tellurium, for which BAE Systems has a sole license for building the technology for space applications, he says.

BAE Systems makes the CRAM chips together with partner and phase-change semiconductor memory technology expert Ovonyx Inc. in Sterling Heights, Mich.

BAE Systems also is using error detection and correction (EDAC) technology aboard the NASA satellites to detect and repair single-event upsets, which are bit flips in solid state memory caused by impact with charged particles in or near radiation sources.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes Mission spacecraft also are equipped with BAE Systems RAD-750 computers, as well as the RTAX-2000 radiation-hardened computer from Microsemi Corp. SoC Products Group in Mountain View, Calif.

Thus far all components are working as expected, BAE Systems officials say. By the time this mission is scheduled to end in 2014, rad-hard experts will have much more information for advanced chip designs.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

December 2013
Volume 24, Issue 12
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