Ascent Logic eyes opportunities in year 2000 problem

SAN JOSE, Calif. - When the clock strikes midnight on 1 Jan. 2000, it holds the potential to do far more than usher in the final year of the 20th century; it also threatens to crash an unknown number of large computer systems and cause critical malfunctions in many others.

Jun 1st, 1997

Ascent Logic eyes opportunities in year 2000 problem

By John McHale

SAN JOSE, Calif. - When the clock strikes midnight on 1 Jan. 2000, it holds the potential to do far more than usher in the final year of the 20th century; it also threatens to crash an unknown number of large computer systems and cause critical malfunctions in many others.

This so-called "year 2000 problem" stems from the hitherto common practice among software engineers of using only two digits to designate years in application programs. Hence the digits 76 can mean the year 1976, or 82 can mean 1982, and so on. The problem for many of these systems is the changeover to the year 2000 - double-zero in many computer systems. It can cause these machines to revert to the year 1900.

In some cases this could be only a nuisance, such as miscalculating loan interest or back taxes. But in other cases it could cause critical errors in air traffic control computers, weapons systems, or stock exchanges, and threatens to put commercial airliners on collision courses, fire missiles inadvertently, or cause economic panic with a stock market crash.

Engineers at Ascent Logic Corp. in San Jose, Calif., are trying to do something about it. They are taking aim at the potential Year 2000 disasters with their Year2000Plus product, which uses the company`s standard Requirements Driven Development RDD-100 Information System Reengineering software.

The disasters that could result from the problem are only three years away and Ascent Logic officials believe the government and the military need to get started on implementing solutions.

U.S. Army leaders, for example, recently ordered a halt to any projects that did not address the Year 2000 problem, says Daniel Kummet, vice president of sales for information systems re-engineering at Ascent.

The software

The RDD-100 tool - the techn-ical foundation of the Year 2000Plus solution - helps designers automate systems engineering by analyzing, specifying, tracking, verifying, documenting, and managing large, complex projects.

Surrounding RDD-100 is an integrated suite of tools that synchronizes system-engineering and management processes and ensures completeness and consistency in software programs. These tools also allow for updates and changes in the project or in the corporate structure.

The software expresses complex system behavior as multiple simple scenarios. Included in RDD-100 is a method to transform these scenarios into one model of system behavior.

RDD-100 helps engineers meet challenges such as coping with the structural and behavioral complexity of the application code itself, the supporting hardware, system or utility software, and communication links within the organization.

Converting software calendars is complex and requires decision support, planning, coordination, tracking, and verification to ensure success, Ascent officials say. They break down the problem into four areas: general integrity, date integrity, explicit century criterion, and implicit century criterion.

General integrity ensures that desired operations will continue uninterrupted regardless of value for the current date. Each date rollover must not lead either the host process or any software executing on the host to erroneous processing. Rollover to the year 2000 "is a high-risk event that needs to be mitigated," explain Ascent officials.

Date integrity criterion helps keep dates straight in arithmetic, branching, formatting, storage, and extended semantics. Explicit century criterion eliminates date ambiguity in interfaces and data storage. Implicit century criterion simply means the correct century is unambiguous for all manipulations. If the century is not explicitly provided, then its value must be correctly inferred from the value of date provided with 100-percent accuracy.

Ascent Logic has three phases to its year 2000 methodology: dependency, triage, and transition. Dependency analyzes how software components interrelate. Triage explores alternative solutions and ways to carry them out. Transition carries out and tests the plan`s details.

During transition, business system engineers use RDD-100 to analyze control and data flows and construct ways to test components and systems after conversion.

Microelectronic developments crucial to Mars soil analysis

By John McHale

PASADENA, Calif. - Microelectronics technology from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is key to meeting the size, weight, and power-consumption requirements of an unmanned space probe set to sample the Martian soil next year in the New Millennium mission to Mars.

Scientists at JPL`s Center for Space Microelectronics in Pasadena, Calif., developed microelectronic components for a spectroscopic sensor to run the Evolved Water Experiment (EWE) on New Millennium`s DS-2 Martian Microprobe.

As the primary instrument on the DS-2 mission, EWE`s objective is to determine the dominant mineral phase and abundance of water in the soil, and to determine the presence or absence of ice near the surface.

EWE designers used a miniature tunable diode laser spectrometer, developed at JPL, to quantitatively measure the water content of gases that are thermally desorbed from a soil sample, says Sarah A. Gavit, project manager for the Mars microprobe mission.

The laser spectrometer is a miniaturization of a class of spectrometers previously deployed from balloons and aircraft for atmospheric chemistry research. The complete system consists of a temperature-controlled laser, detector, optics, electronics, and gas sample chamber. The total mass of the EWE is less than 7 ounces in a volume of less than 6.4 cubic inches. The power consumption is estimated at 2 watts for 20 minutes, primarily for sample heating.

To collect its sample, the EWE`s open tube simply gathers up whatever dirt happens to fall into it during impact, To see if there is water in the sample, a battery-powered coil heats the sample to see if steam comes out.

The forebody of the probe, which will bury itself about 6 feet into the soil, is designed to operate in temperatures ranging from 0 to -120 degrees Celsius. The forebody weighs less than 2 pounds and includes a microcontroller, power microelectronics, two temperature sensors, and a three-axis impact accelerometer.

The advanced microcontroller multichip module has 8051-based data acquisition and control with modest data processing capability. It is an 8-bit processor, with 128 kilobits of random access memory and 128 kilobits of electrically erasable programmable read-only memory. The device measures 0.8-by-1.5 inches and has high-shock packaging.

The microcontroller, designed by a consortium of developers led by experts at the U.S. Air Force Phillips Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, N.M., can be used in small systems or instruments, including microprobes, solar panel actuators, distributed propulsion systems, cryo-coolers, and health and status monitors.

The power microelectronics uses mixed digital and analog ASICs and chip-on-board technology. It also uses CMOS technology with low-temperature capability, as well as switching and linear regulators.

The microelectronics offer digital-like benefits in density, functionality, reliability, rapid design turnaround, and cost. It has applications in high-density instruments AND sensors, micro assemblies, small rovers, landers, penetrators, and commercial systems.

Engineers from The Boeing Co. Defense & Space Group in Seattle integrated, tested, and developed the design. The ASIC Fabrication was designed by Austria Mikro Systeme in Unterpremstatten Austria.

The temperature sensors have two thermistors mounted in the penetrator`s forebody, which determine conductivity from cooling following impact. The technology was developed at JPL.

To help reduce mass and volume, and to survive the hard impact, the probes contain very few wires. Instead, engineers implement system electrical cabling using a flexible interconnect system.

The system is a Kapton-based multilayer circuit carrier, which is applicable to intersubsystem interconnects and resists severe shock and vibration. It provides high interconnect reliability for 2-D and 3D packaging, and is highly resistant to oxygen. It was developed by Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Littleton, Colo., and Electro-Films Inc. of Warwick, R.I.

The aftbody

The aftbody, which will remain on the Martian surface to relay data back to Earth, is designed to operate in temperature ranges 0 to -80 C. The aftbody weighs less than 2.3 pounds and includes, two lithium batteries, microtelecommunications system with, antenna, meteorological pressure sensor, descent accelerometer, and a sun detector.

The two lithium batteries power the probe. They operate in -80 C, and are lithium-thionyl chloride primary batteries with resistance of 80,000 g shock, a voltage range of 6 to 14 volts, and a 2.5 year shelf life.

The battery, developed at Yardney Technical Products in Pawcatuck, Conn., also has ultra-low temperature energy storage and high shock packaging. Gavit says she expects it to have future applications for the U.S. Defense and Energy departments due to its ruggedness. The current generation of batteries only last for 50 hours.


The microtelecommunications system includes a programmable transceiver module, which transmits data at rates between 1 bit per second and 500 kilobits per second, and operates in -120 C to 50 C.

Gavit calls the system "telecom on a chip." It is an A-D circuitry radio, she says. It also uses ASIC and chip-on-board technology, has multimission capability, is low volume, and is inexpensive to reproduce.

The probe emits tones that are preset before launch to correspond with sensor readings of soil content, water content, and other substances expected to be on the Martian surface, Gavit says. The sends the tones out through then interconnect, then through the telecom on a chip, and finally which sends it out to be picked up by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft that will orbit Mars and sweep the planet`s surface looking for the tones. Once the orbiting craft receives the signals, it relays them to Earth for analysis.

The meteorological pressure sensor is a silicon capacitive micromechanical pressure transducer with a miniaturized hybrid/high-g electronic package and an operating temperature of -80 to 50 C. It was developed by engineers at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and at Locus Novasensor of Fremont, Calif.

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