Three-step approach envisioned for implementing COTS DSPs

Effectively implementing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology in advanced military and space systems can best be done with a three-step process that takes the end users from point solutions to standardized long-term solutions.

By John Rhea

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Effectively implementing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology in advanced military and space systems can best be done with a three-step process that takes the end users from point solutions to standardized long-term solutions, says Michael Fleming, president of DSP Architectures in Vancouver, Wash.

The first step is to use standard products, Fleming says. These, he stresses, must be scaleable at the board level so that designers can expand capabilities by merely adding chips.

From there his scenario calls for going on to applications-specific integrated circuits and then to fully custom chips if sufficient volume can be achieved.

Experts at DSP Architectures are using this approach for its radiation-hardened real-time digital signal processors (DSPs), and the stalking horse is a new RHDSP24 line introduced in late August that has been accepted for NASA's New Millennium program.

First use in space is now set for November 2004 in NASA's Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer that is expected to improve long-range weather forecasting. DSP Architectures is the subcontractor to Honeywell Space Systems Division in Clearwater, Fla., which is supplying NASA with a radiation-hardened vector processor.

Working with DSP Architectures is Valley Technologies Inc. of State College, Pa., where designers build the boards as their VT-5520 CompactPCI vector signal processor. They also do the software. The DSP Architectures-designed chips are to be fabricated initially at the AMI foundry in Pocatello, Idaho, at a 0.35-micron resolution and later by Honeywell's foundry in Plymouth, Minn., at 0.25 and eventually 0.18 — all radiation-hardened.

Fleming makes the distinction between his company's approach, which he calls "hard IP [intellectual property]" that is characterized and put into hardware, and "soft IP," such as the VHSIC Hardware Development Language. The idea is to offer the customer a complete solution, but one that is scaleable.

In the pre-COTS days the U.S. Department od Defense and NASA used to dominate the industry and drive the technology. Given the relatively small volumes involved, however, Fleming maintains that point solutions must give way to standardized long-term solutions.

The DSP24 is available off the shelf in a 432-pin super ball grid array package at prices ranging from $590 each in sample quantities as high as 100 to less than $200 in OEM volumes, according to the company.

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