Military Embedded Systems

Rugged SFFs for spaceflight


March 20, 2009

Don Dingee

Contributing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Turning attention to three examples of rugged SFF computers for spaceflight, these appear to be dominated by Power Architecture processors, FPGAs, and VxWorks operating system support. Also of note in these applications is the use of SpaceWire, a nine-pin serial interface defined by the European Space Agency (similar to IEEE 1355) but gaining use in space programs worldwide.

Figure 1: SEAKR Engineering Application Independent Processor

(Click graphic to zoom by 3.3x)



First, the Application Independent Processor from SEAKR Engineering (Centennial, Colorado, is a 7.8" x 11.41" x 10", 18 lb. platform with both a Power Architecture computer board and a reconfigurable computing board with three Xilinx Virtex-4 parts. Flying on the Air Force Research Laboratory's TacSat-3 program later in 2009, the unit processes hyperspectral imagery, pulls targets from queues, and updates war-fighter info via downlink in real time. It has mezzanine-based I/O for interfaces like Camera Link and SpaceWire and is supported with VxWorks.

Figure 2: Broad Reach Engineering Mirideon

(Click graphic to zoom by 2.0x)



Next, a brand-new System-on-Chip (SoC) and processor board are taking shape at Broad Reach Engineering (Tempe, Arizona, BRE has licensed IBM's PowerPC 440 core and designed it into a purpose-built 1 MRad total dose (TID) hardened SoC, which in turn serves as the processor on the company's Mirideon SBC coming later in 2009. In a 3U CompactPCI format, Mirideon has 10/100 Ethernet and RS-422 interfaces and is supported with VxWorks. BRE is keeping the base computer simple and looking at I/O like SpaceWire and sensor interfaces on additional 3U boards.

Figure 3: Spaceflight Space Micro Proton400k

(Click graphic to zoom)



Finally, the Space Micro Inc. (San Diego, California, Proton400k SBC is in a CompactPCI 3U or 6U form factor. The latest version of the board is designed with a Freescale P2020 processor – not rad-hard itself, but mitigated with patented technologies like time-triple modular redundancy for Single Event Upset (SEU) mitigation and H-Core for Single Event Functional Interrupt (SEFI) mitigation – with a complement of Actel FPGAs. The board is supported under either Linux or VxWorks, with multiple I/O options including PCI Express, SpaceWire, RS-422, and more.