A prototype decoder for a serially concatenated pulse position modulation (SCPPM) code has been implemented in a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). At the time of this reporting, this is the first known hardware SCPPM decoder. The SCPPM coding scheme, conceived for free-space optical communications with both deep-space and terrestrial applications in mind, is an improvement of several dB over the conventional Reed-Solomon PPM scheme. The design of the FPGA SCPPM decoder is based on a turbo decoding algorithm that requires relatively low computational complexity while delivering error-rate performance within approximately 1 dB of channel capacity.

The SCPPM Decoder is designed according to a decoding algorithm that includes interleaving and de-interleaving algorithms in conjunction with SISO subalgorithms for decoding inner and outer codes.
The SCPPM encoder consists of an outer convolutional encoder, an interleaver, an accumulator, and an inner modulation encoder (more precisely, a mapping of bits to PPM symbols). Each code is describable by a trellis (a finite directed graph). The SCPPM decoder consists of an inner soft-in-soft-out (SISO) module, a de-interleaver, an outer SISO module, and an interleaver connected in a loop (see figure). Each SISO module applies the Bahl-Cocke-Jelinek-Raviv (BCJR) algorithm to compute a-posteriori bit log-likelihood ratios (LLRs) from a-priori LLRs by traversing the code trellis in forward and backward directions. The SISO modules iteratively refine the LLRs by passing the estimates between one another much like the working of a turbine engine. Extrinsic information (the difference between the a-posteriori and a-priori LLRs) is exchanged rather than the a-posteriori LLRs to minimize undesired feedback. All computations are performed in the logarithmic domain, wherein multiplications are translated into additions, thereby reducing complexity and sensitivity to fixed-point implementation round-off errors.

To lower the required memory for storing channel likelihood data and the amounts of data transfer between the decoder and the receiver, one can discard the majority of channel likelihoods, using only the remainder in operation of the decoder. This is accomplished in the receiver by transmitting only a subset consisting of the likelihoods that correspond to time slots containing the largest numbers of observed photons during each PPM symbol period. The assumed number of observed photons in the remaining time slots is set to the mean of a noise slot. In low background noise, the selection of a small subset in this manner results in only negligible loss.

Other features of the decoder design to reduce complexity and increase speed include (1) quantization of metrics in an efficient procedure chosen to incur no more than a small performance loss and (2) the use of the max-star function that allows sum of exponentials to be computed by simple operations that involve only an addition, a subtraction, and a table lookup. Another prominent feature of the design is a provision for access to interleaver and de-interleaver memory in a single clock cycle, eliminating the multiple clock-cycle latency characteristic of prior interleaver and de-interleaver designs.

This work was done by Bruce Moision, Jon Hamkins, Maged Barsoum, Michael Cheng, and Michael Nakashima of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-42246


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This article first appeared in the March, 2009 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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