COTS card cage helps DarkStar computers survive crash, fire

BILLERICA, Mass. - One criticism consistently leveled at commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment is its suspected fragile reliability. Engineers at Kinetic Computer Corp. in Billerica, Mass., have uncovered evidence that suggests otherwise.

Apr 1st, 1998
Th Mae72422 10

By John McHale

BILLERICA, Mass. - One criticism consistently leveled at commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment is its suspected fragile reliability. Engineers at Kinetic Computer Corp. in Billerica, Mass., have uncovered evidence that suggests otherwise.

The STD 32 card cage from Kinetic successfully protected Ziatech STD 32 boards from a landing shock of close to 20g and temperatures as hot as 260 degrees Celsius during the crash of the second flight of the Lockheed Martin DarkStar unmanned aerial vehicle at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on April 22, 1996.

The aircraft pitched straight up, stalled, dove to the ground, and burned for 11 minutes before firefighters doused the flames, says Vinit Nijhawan, marketing manager at Kinetic.

Three days after the crash engineers from the Boeing Co. in Seattle, and the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif., powered up the computer and found it to be fully functional.

The Kinetic cage protects the STD-32 boards from Ziatech in San Luis Obispo, Calif., that make up the DarkStar`s Sensor Communications Controller, which enables communications with the FLTSATCOM satellite or with the ground at 137 megabytes per second.

The STD 32 is an industrial-grade card cage, tested at ranges of -45 to 85 degrees Celsius, Nijhawan says. Boeing and Lockheed officials were unavailable for comment.

The aircraft was being developed by Boeing and Lockheed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office to provide high-altitude battlefield reconnaissance data. When operational, the remotely piloted aircraft may fly at altitudes higher than 45,000 feet.

DarkStar carries either an electro-optical sensor or a synthetic aperture radar and can fly faster than 250 knots.

Click here to enlarge image

A STD 32 card cage from Kinetic Computer Corp., pictured above, survived an aircraft crash and fire that subjected the subsystem to 20-g shock, and temperatures as hot as 260 degrees Celsius.

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