Rad-hard IC market remains solid

April 1, 2005
Designers of radiation-hardened integrated circuits for space applications see the military market as remaining steady.

Designers of radiation-hardened integrated circuits for space applications see the military market as remaining steady. Meanwhile, the hardening-by-design concept provides a less expensive alternative to designers.

By John McHale

Designers of radiation-hardened integrated circuits find the current business climate to be quite agreeable.

Companies such as Actel, Peregrine Semiconductor, and Aeroflex have weathered the storms of the telecommunications market downturn because of their products in the military and civil applications-NASA and other non-defense-related government activity.

“We look at three market segments-military, civil space, and commercial,” says Ken O’Neil, director of military and aerospace marketing for Actel in Sunnyvale, Calif., noting most Actel design wins are for space applications..

Business looks very strong for next three years because of the Bush Administration’s record on defense spending; however, after that it will be hard to predict, O’Neill says.

Actel’s latest field-programmable gate array is the RTAX-S family. RTAX-S is a new generation of radiation-tolerant FPGAs, designed for space applications, offering as many as two million system gates or 250,000 ASIC-equivalent gates. High I/O count and embedded memory make the RTAX-S devices ideal alternatives to ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits), giving designers the flexibility to perform last-minute design changes at lower costs and with faster time-to-market, Actel officials say.

Actel’s RTSX-S device is used in NASA’s Mars missions.
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Actel’s FPGA products are on the U.S. Navy’s MUOS program and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Other civil missions for Actel include the Hubble Telescope servicing mission, which is on hold pending Congressional approval for the service, O’Neill says. Otherwise it will be brought down. Either way, Actel will be part of the servicing mission or the mission to bring it down, he adds.

Peregrine Semiconductor

Satellites are a very promising market right now, says Chuck Tabbert, director of space and defense marketing at Peregrine Semiconductor in San Diego.

Peregrine’s international business is mostly commercial and meteorological satellites, Tabbert says. The European market is the last bastion for RF (radio frequency) ASICs, Tabbert says, and there is strong growth there. The U.S. market is solid and tilted toward more integrated ASICs, Tabbert adds.

Technology trends are for more dynamic bandwidth and more efficient power, Tabbert says.

Peregrine is known for its RF CMOS IC products, which are suited for market segments such as wireless infrastructure and mobile Wireless; Global Positioning Systems(GPS); optical; broadband and military/space applications. The company’s CMOS process-UltraCMOS-combines the RF, mixed-signal, and digital capabilities of any other CMOS process, yet tolerates high voltages required for high-performance wireless applications.

UltraCMOS mixed-signal process technology is a variation of silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology. It uses Ultra-Thin-Silicon (UTSi) on sapphire substrates with high yields and competitive costs, Peregrine officials say. Significant performance advantages exist over competing processes such as GaAs, SiGe, BiCMOS, and bulk-silicon CMOS in applications where RF performance, low power, and integration are paramount, company officials say.

The Proton 100K rad-hard flight space computer from Space Micro is used in the U.S. Air Force Roadrunner program.
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Peregrine recently announced the availability of the PE4261 RF antenna switch-a Flip-Chip SP4T Switch for dual-band GSM handset applications. This new device provides Antenna Switch Module (ASM) manufacturers the lowest total height and smallest footprint solution by implementing flip-chip packaging, Peregrine officials say.

The use of advanced packaging technology reduces the PCB area by a factor of nine when compared to conventional wire bonding. The device offers linear operation from 100 to 3,000 MHz at 2.6 V with fast switch settling time. Further, the blocking capacitors typically found on pHEMT switches with positive control logic are not required for any UltraCMOS-based device.

The product enables CMOS to be directly connected to the antenna of a GSM handset.


“We see the military market as moving along very steadily, with programs such as Advanced EHF and others,” says Tony Jordan, director of standard products at Aeroflex in Colorado Springs, Col.

Research and development dollars also seem to be there for programs such as Space Based Radar and Transformational Satellite Communications.

The only gray area would be with black programs because it is always difficult to tell what is going on there, Jordan says.

NASA programs are a big question, Jordan says. The James Webb Telescope and the GOES NPOESS programs seem like strong bets, as do Mars-related products.

Aeroflex Colorado Springs recently qualified its new RadHard ASIC packaging capability for improved SSO (simultaneous switching output) response.
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Jordan also says he is cautiously optimistic about the President’s “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” plans. There will be funding, but Jordan says he is not sure how much of that will be satellite programs.

Aeroflex Colorado Springs recently qualified its new RadHard ASIC packaging capability for improved SSO (simultaneous switching output) response. Aeroflex’s external chip capacitor attachment option is now available for its UT0.2m RadHard ASICs and for FPGA-to-ASIC conversions. The chip-capacitor attachment meets space-quality levels.

“Customers came to us seeking improved SSO response for their end products,” says Peter Milliken, director of semicustom products at Aeroflex Colorado Springs. “SSO can result in noise spikes on ASICs, causing glitches and timing push-out of signal nets. By adding the chip-capacitor attachment directly on our packages, additional ‘local’ decoupling capacitance is available to mitigate the current surges during SSO events. This is an extra safety margin to ensure that signals generating from the ASICs are not affected by the noise spikes.

“We have done hundreds of FPGA-to-ASIC conversions with over 25 in 2004 alone,” Milliken continues. “Customers have needed the chip capacitor attachment for RadHard ASICs from other vendors; Aeroflex’s UT0.6m and UT0.25m processes have not required chip capacitors on our packages because of Aerofelx’s integral power distribution built into our ASIC package and die architectures.

Jordan also says Aeroflex’s rad-hard FPGA will be ready by the end of the year.

Boards for space

In the past many manufacturers would roll their own boards for rad-hard applications instead of paying the high price for megarad boards from Honeywell and BAE Systems-Manassas, now with companies like Space Micro they have less expensive alternatives, says Dave Strobel, chief executive officer of Space Micro in San Diego.

The business is steady, says Doug Patterson, vice president of international sales and marketing at Aitech in Chatsworth, Calif. Aitech unlike many in the military bus and board community has stayed in the space business despite the low volume and has developed quite a niche for them.

Aitech makes boards for low-, medium-, and high-Earth orbit, Patterson says. The 3U CompactPCI boards use silicon on insulator technology and are rad-tolerant, he adds.

Aitech VME boards in the past have been used for test and instrumentation on the International Space Station.

U.S. Air Force officials recently selected the Space Micro’s Proton100k computer as the flight payload computer for the Roadrunner Onboard Processing Experiment (ROPE), on the U.S. Air Force Roadrunner satellite program

The program is a 250-kilogram satellite being developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate under the Responsive Space Program (RSP). In addition to the Proton100k satellite computer, Space Micro engineers will deliver a 64-gigabit solid-state data recorder. The Proton100k flight computer will be used by ROPE as its instrument computer, performing data management and processing of focal-plane-array data

The computer uses Space Micro’s advanced single-event upset (SEU) and single-event functional-interrupt (SEFI) mitigation technologies. SEU is mitigated with the Time-Triple Modular Redundancy, or TTMR, built into the computer hardware and software, while SEFI is mitigated using Space Micro’s Hardened Core circuits. Combining these technologies into a single product enables the use of advance, commercial microprocessors in the harsh environment encountered in space, Space Micro officials say.

Customers want more and more processing power especially in processing image data, says Larry Longden senior director of marketing and technology at Maxwell Technologies in San Diego.

Maxwell’s SCS750 single-board computer for space has triple redundant IBM PowerPC750FX processors running at 800 MHz and 1,800 MIPS. The board has one upset every 300 years, Silicon-On-Insulator (SOI) processors, and uses Actel RT-AX FPGAs.

One example of intensive image processing is the European Space Agency’s GAIA program, which plans to map a billion stars in 10 years, Longden says. They have to run the board at full power for 10 years to do it, he adds.

Maxwell has also hardened synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) for space components with improved speed and density. A typical SRAM has 4-bit performance while SDRAM has 256 megabit performance, Longden says. Maxwell also has a 2 gigabit module.

Longden says business is good. He says he sees Maxwell’s U.S. market increasing while Europe remains flat.

Hardening by design

Hardening by design is gaining a lot of fans in the radiation-hardening community as a way to radiation-harden components less expensively than using an expensive foundry, Space Micro’s Strobel says.

The techniques enable companies to contract out to commercial fabrication facilities instead of waiting for their own fab to be revamped. The concept enables more efficient risk management.

Radiation hardening by design has been used for many years to mitigate the effects of cosmic radiation. Changes in the shape of transistors and the use of redundancies for space electronics make it possible.

C-MAC crystals on Huygens Probe to Titan

Engineers at C-MAC Frequency Products in London recently delivered a quantity of C6151 (10.000 MHz) and C6152 (10.230 MHz) crystal units to Alenia Spazio in Rome, Italy. These parts were used in the Probe Data Relay Subsystem (PDRS) for the radio link between the Huygens probe and Cassini spacecraft to transmit the scientific data collected during the descent on Titan.

Cassini-Huygens was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a Titan IV-Centaur rocket on Oct. 17, 1997, with the purpose of studying Saturn and its many moons. After traveling seven years through space (covering 2.2 billion miles), the spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004 and the Huygens probe was released by the Cassini on Dec.25, 2004, to begin its journey to explore Titan.

In January 2005, as the Huygens’ probe descended through Titan’s atmosphere, C-MAC’s space crystals were activated, enabling the on-board transceiver to successfully transmit important new data and photography, collected by the Huygens Probe, back to Earth.

C-MAC MicroTechnology serves the military, aerospace, transportation, medical, industrial, and communications equipment sectors. The company is comprised of two business units: C-MAC MicroSystems Solutions and C-MAC Frequency Products.

C-MAC Frequency Products has a 70-year history of manufacturing quartz-based frequency control products. Its product range encompasses AT and SC cut crystals, crystal oscillators, voltage-controlled crystal oscillators (VCXOs), temperature-compensated crystal oscillators (TCXOs), oven-controlled crystal oscillators (OCXOs), and rubidium oscillators and clocks. Particular specializations include patented ASIC-based high-stability TCXOs, ultrastable OCXOs, and SDH/SONET reference oscillators. For more information, visit www.cmac.com.

Aonix tools selected for European Satellite Launcher

Officials at the European Space Agency (ESA) recently selected tools from Aonix in San Diego for the Vega Program, a satellite launcher for satellites weighing one ton or less that are used for scientific Earth observation, telecommunications, and technology applications in low-Earth orbits. Aonix tools have been selected for Ada application development along with its real-time executive.

The Vega Program came into being in the early 1990s when several European countries began to investigate the possibility of complementing the Ariane launchers’ family with a capability for smaller payloads. These preparatory activities concluded in 1998, and in 2000, the member countries approved the launcher’s full development phase. Aonix products were selected as the mission-critical software phase of the project opened up, Aonix officials say. The AdaWorld Solaris to ERC-32 product implements the board segment software that controls and monitors all phases of the launcher’s take off and flight until the satellite is in orbit.

“Aonix has built a strong reputation within the Space industry,” says Maurizio Porfiri, system software architect at ELV, main contractor of the Vega project. “We were impressed by the quality and robustness of their environment and appreciated the high level of expertise Aonix developed with space technology. Aonix expertise and experience are key factors in the future success of the Vega project.”

The Vega Program, a European Space Agency satellite launcher for satellites weighing one ton or less, uses tools from Aonix.
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“Aonix has played an instrumental role in major space projects such as the Ariane 5 launcher and the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV),” says Christophe Goarin, on board software integration manager at EADS Space Transportation. “Aonix products have always satisfied our demanding requirements and met the high-quality standards we expect from our suppliers.”

To reduce costs, the Vega Program uses a flexible modular approach that employs advanced low-cost technologies and takes advantage of existing production facilities used for Ariane launchers. Aonix provides products for onboard software development, based on technology already proven in previous Ariane launchers. The first qualification launch for Vega is planned in 2006 from the French Guiana Space Center. Following this, there will be an average of three to four launches each year.

Aonix offers mission- and safety-critical solutions primarily to the military and aerospace, telecommunications and transportation-related industries. For more information, visit www.aonix.com.

AVX Glass Capacitor used for Cassini-Huygens mission

Engineers at AVX Corp. in Myrtle Beach, S.C., supplied the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which is currently studying Saturn and its moons with its CYR10 and CYR15 multilayer glass-dielectric capacitors. The ultrastable glass capacitors were used in communication and control of the Cassini spacecraft, as well as deployment and wake-up circuitry for the Huygens probe that recently landed on Saturn’s moon, Titan.

AVX glass capacitors played a role in the deployment and wake-up circuitry of Huygens. NASA reported that the Huygens probe detached flawlessly from the Cassini spacecraft on Dec. 25, 2004. AVX capacitors facilitated the separation and enabled the probe to begin a 21-day trip to the surface of Titan, AVX officials say. On Huygens descent to the surface floor, the CYR10 capacitors enabled Huygens’ central computers to “wake up,” to take readings and measurements of Titan’s atmosphere and images of the surface.

The fused monolithic construction of the glass dielectric capacitors provide a high Q factor and a low dissipation factor that changes little with frequency and temperature excursions. This, coupled with a low, retraceable, extended-range temperature coefficient ensures stable, reliable, and repeatable electrical performance, regardless of the capacitors environment, company officials say. All AVX glass capacitors exhibit zero piezoelectric noise and have zero voltage coefficient regardless of age or style.

CYR10 and CYR15 devices are designed to withstand extremely high and low temperatures and exposure to radiation, AVX officials say. The materials and construction techniques used in the manufacturing of glass capacitors make them highly resistant to nuclear radiation, voltage breakdown, and high operating temperatures. Glass capacitors are ideal for applications requiring radiation hardness and absolute reliability and endurance in severe conditions.

For more information about AVX’s glass capacitors, contact AVX Sales and Marketing at 843-946-0414 or online at www.avxcorp.com.

Loral satellite monitors weather and airplanes

The MTSAT-1R, built by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) in Palo Alto, Calif., for the Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) and Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA), was successfully launched earlier this year.

The satellite, a multifunctional, weather-monitoring, and air-traffic-control satellite, was sent into space aboard an H-IIA rocket from Japan’s space center in Tanegashima, Japan. From its geosynchronous orbital position at 140 degrees East longitude, MTSAT-1R will combine aeronautical services and a meteorological payload on one satellite.

The satellite will provide meteorological and ATM services for users throughout the entire Asia-Pacific region-as far south as Australia and New Zealand. The satellite’s meteorological payload will enter service in the second quarter of 2005 and the ATM services will be offered in early 2006.

JCAB will use MTSAT-1R L-band mobile links to provide communications and navigational services for aircraft, increasing the efficiency of aircraft flight routes, providing flexible flight profile planning, enhancing air travel safety and improving the quality of aeronautical communications, company officials say.

For JMA, MTSAT-1R will gather critical weather information for users throughout the Asia-Pacific region, broadcasting cloud imagery and continuous weather data, including cloud and water-vapor distributions, cloud-motion wind vector, sea surface temperature, and information on typhoons and other severe weather conditions.

MTSAT-1R is a version of SS/L’s space-proven, three-axis, body-stabilized 1300 bus. SS/L’s satellites are designed to achieve long, useful, orbital life through use of bipropellant propulsion and momentum-bias systems for station-keeping and orbital stability. A system of solar arrays and lightweight batteries provide uninterrupted electrical power.

MTSAT-1R uses many of the same technologies developed for the most recently deployed U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite program, GOES, for which SS/L was the prime contractor. SS/L has manufactured five GOES satellites (I-M) under contract to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for delivery to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for operations.

For more information, see www.loral.com.

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