Navigation path

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia


  

Published: 11 September 2017  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Information societyInformation technology
Innovation
Pure sciencesAstronomy
Research policySeventh Framework Programme
SpaceSpace exploration  |  Space hardware
Countries involved in the project described in the article
United Kingdom
Add to PDF "basket"

On-board processor 'survival kit' for deep space

Space exploration demands high performance on-board computers with low power requirements that can survive the rigours of aggressive radiation. The EU-funded APEX project has developed the advanced technologies needed to design an ultra-reliable processor for future space missions as far away as Saturn and Jupiter.

Image of an astronaut in space with the Earth in the  background

© Vadimsadovski - fotolia.com

The performance capabilities of space-grade processors are currently inadequate for the increasing demands of navigation, faultless manoeuvres and high-rate science data processing required for space exploration missions. Processors developed by ARM Ltd, coordinator of the APEX project, offer high performance on a constrained energy budget here on Earth, where they power most smartphones and tablets.

However, ARM processors lack resistance to high radiation and the ability to cope with the increasingly demanding functionalities required in space. The APEX (Advanced processor core for space exploration) project addressed these challenges. With the support of an EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship, Xabier Iturbe and his team of researchers "developed sufficient levels of resilience in ARM processors to withstand high levels of radiation and provide extremely long life,” the fellow explains.

Exploration for signs of life

Iturbe started the project in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he worked on the CIRIS spectrometer. The second phase was carried out at the host institute ARM in Cambridge, the UK.

The search for life beyond Earth is a significant part of NASA’s space programme and involves using on-board science instruments to analyse the composition of material collected in remote locations of our Solar System.

As part of the bid to develop space-qualified on-board computers with advanced capabilities, the APEX project designed a complete System-on-Chip (SoC) around an ARM processor, integrating the hardware support and software routines for science data processing, instrument calibration and housekeeping as well as on-board communications. The APEX-SoC was used with the Compositional InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer (CIRIS), a new generation of lightweight, rugged NASA instruments, designed to search for life on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Coping with harsh radiation is possible thanks to two mechanisms in the APEX-SoC. First, a dedicated data processing stage eliminates most of the distortion provoked by radiation hits in the CIRIS photo detectors. Second, a set of fault-tolerant features implemented in the SoC detect and handle radiation-provoked upsets in the overall system. For instance, the SoC integrates two data processing stages that can be used to process data from two different CIRIS photo detectors in parallel, or to detect radiation-provoked upsets when they process data from the same photo detector. “This technique allows for dynamic balancing between performance and reliability in different mission situations,” Iturbe points out.

The APEX-SoC quadruples the performance of the previous generation CIRIS controller, and can process data from as many as 100 photo detectors, compared to only 25 previously. Furthermore, the APEX-SoC consumes 40 % less energy and can cope with up to 3 500 radiation hits per second.

Future space ventures

To satisfy reliability requirements in future NASA space exploration missions, APEX researchers built a radiation-tolerant ARM triple core lock-step processor that enables error detection and correction within microseconds – current state-of-the-art technology takes 1 millisecond. Moreover, they implemented a novel ‘high-resilience’ execution mode to enable ARM cores to execute high-criticality software routines with the highest levels of reliability. Importantly, the developed solution leverages the use of commercial technology to reduce manufacturing costs and increase performance.

Bringing space technology to Earth

Closer to daily life, the APEX processor can help keep pace with the needs of the ever-growing connected global infrastructure, which largely depends on space assets such as telecom satellites. Another possibility is as an enabler technology for the Internet of Space, where a myriad of cooperating satellite constellations will provide faster Internet access on Earth. “As a first attempt to validate our technology in a real space environment, we are partnering with ESA to fly APEX processor-powered CubeSats designed by universities,” says Iturbe.

Vast improvements in ARM processors tailored for the harsh space environments promise to create an extensive ecosystem of researchers and engineers providing state-of-the-art computing technologies. These could also be used in airborne and terrestrial applications that require high levels of reliability, including autonomous vehicles and Industry 4.0 robotics.

“APEX has pioneered the development of a radiation-tolerant ARM processor and contributed to broadening the ARM ecosystem, creating synergies between communities as diverse as space scientists and commercial mobile developers,” says Iturbe.

The technologies developed by Iturbe and his team will be crucial to future space explorations, and their commercial potential here on Earth in the meantime is considerable.

Project details

  • Project acronym: APEX
  • Participants: United Kingdom
  • Project Nr: 627579
  • Total costs: € 196 460
  • EU contribution: € 196 460
  • Duration: September 2014 to September 2016

See also

 

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also
Project website
Project details


  Top   Research Information Center
 
Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia

Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia