Commercial digital signal processors (DSPs) for use in high-speed satellite computers are challenged by the damaging effects of space radiation, mainly single event upsets (SEUs) and single event functional interrupts (SEFIs). Inno vations have been developed for mitigating the effects of SEUs and SEFIs, enabling the use of very-high-speed commercial DSPs with improved SEU tolerances. Timetriple modular redundancy (TTMR) is a method of applying traditional triple modular redundancy on a single processor, exploiting the VLIW (very long instruction word) class of parallel processors. TTMR improves SEU rates substantially. SEFIs are solved by a SEFI-hardened core circuit, external to the microprocessor. It monitors the “health” of the processor, and if a SEFI occurs, forces the processor to return to performance through a series of escalating events.

TTMR and hardened-core solutions were developed for both DSPs and reconfigurable field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). This includes advancement of TTMR algorithms for DSPs and reconfigurable FPGAs, plus a rad-hard, hardened-core integrated circuit that services both the DSP and FPGA. Additionally, a combined DSP and FPGA board architecture was fully developed into a rad-hard engineering product. This technology enables use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) DSPs in computers for satellite and other space applications, allowing rapid deployment at a much lower cost.

Traditional rad-hard space computers are very expensive and typically have long lead times. These computers are either based on traditional rad-hard processors, which have extremely low computational performance, or triple modular redundant (TMR) FPGA arrays, which suffer from power and complexity issues. Even more frustrating is that the TMR arrays of FPGAs require a fixed, external rad-hard voting element, thereby causing them to lose much of their reconfiguration capability and in some cases significant speed reduction.

The benefits of COTS high-performance signal processing include significant increase in onboard science data processing, enabling orders of magnitude reduction in required communication bandwidth for science data return, orders of magnitude improvement in onboard mission planning and critical decision making, and the ability to rapidly respond to changing mission environments, thus enabling opportunistic science and orders of magnitude reduction in the cost of mission operations through reduction of required staff. Additional benefits of COTS-based, high-performance signal processing include the ability to leverage considerable commercial and academic investments in advanced computing tools, techniques, and infrastructure, and the familiarity of the science and IT community with these computing environments.

This work was done by David Czajkowski of Space Micro, Inc. for Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16078-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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