Low-Power FPGAs Aboard NASA’s Mission to Mars to Study Climate History

RTAX-S field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) Actel
Mountain View, CA

Actel’s RTAX-S field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are aboard NASA’s Phoenix mission to Mars, which launched this summer from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian Arctic. Included in the spacecraft is a Meterological Station (MET) provided by the Canadian Space Agency, which will acquire, process, and transmit temperature and pressure data to scientists back on Earth. MDA, a provider of robotic space systems, led construction of the MET instrument and incorporated Actel’s one-million-gate RTAX1000SCQ352 device into the instrument subsystem.

ImageActel’s antifuse-based technology combines radiation tolerance with low power, enabling it to withstand rigorous environments. The RTAX-S FPGA family offers features desirable for spaceflight applications, including single-event upset (SEU)-hardened flip-flops, usable error-corrected on-board memory, and a large amount of user I/O. Devices in the family range in density from 250,000 to 4-million equivalent system gates.

The Phoenix spacecraft is scheduled to land on the icy northern latitudes of Mars in May 2008. During its 90-day primary mission, the Phoenix will dig trenches with its robotic arm into the frozen layers of water below the soil’s icy surface. The MET instruments will be used constantly in surface operations to learn about climate and geology and determine whether life has ever existed.

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