Tech Briefs

Compute Element and Interface Box for the Hazard Detection System

This architecture combines an FPGA and CPU to capitalize on their strengths.

The Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) program is building a sensor that enables a spacecraft to evaluate autonomously a potential landing area to generate a list of hazardous and safe landing sites. It will also provide navigation inputs relative to those safe sites.

altThe Hazard Detection System Compute Element (HDS-CE) box combines a fieldprogrammable gate array (FPGA) board for sensor integration and timing, with a multicore computer board for processing. The FPGA does system-level timing and data aggregation, and acts as a go-between, removing the real-time requirements from the processor and labeling events with a high resolution time. The processor manages the behavior of the system, controls the instruments connected to the HDSCE, and services the “heavy lifting” computational requirements for analyzing the potential landing spots.

The HDS-CE is built with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and one custom I/O board. The HDS consists of the compute element, a Flash LIDAR, a 2- axis gimbal, a navigation-grade inertial measurement unit (IMU), and a power distribution unit (PDU). It is designed as an independent instrument interfacing with a host vehicle.

This architecture combines the strengths of two architectures: the highperformance timing, I/O, and interface ability and processing of an FPGA, with the high-performance computing, flexibility, and programmability of a general-purpose Manycore processor. This combination of an FPGA with a Manycore processor, with both components being concurrently used for processing, has yet to be done for space applications.

This architecture is also useful for embedded robotic applications such as rovers. The FPGA/Manycore combination allows the end user to place tasks on either the FPGA or the Manycore processor, based on the strengths and weaknesses of each component.

This work was done by Carlos Y. Villalpando, Garen Khanoyan, Ryan A. Stern, Raphael R. Some, Erik S. Bailey, John M. Carson, Geoffrey M. Vaughan, Robert A. Werner, Phil M. Salomon, Keith E. Martin, Matthew D. Spaulding, Michael E. Luna, Shui H. Motaghedi, Nikolas Trawny, Andrew E. Johnson, Tonislav I. Ivanov, Andres Huertas, and William D. Whitaker of Caltech; and Steven B. Goldberg of Indelible Systems, Inc. for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The software used in this innovation is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . NPO-48786

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Compute Element and Interface Box for the Hazard Detection System (reference NPO-48786) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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