Electronics for European independence in space
Electronic components must meet stringent requirements in order to be useful for space applications. An EU-funded project has validated European-made components for this purpose, hoping to make the EU space sector less dependent on international partners.
© Mechanik #32232584, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Space-grade electronic devices are often subject to restrictive trade rules, such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). Therefore, it would be highly advantageous for Europe to have its own domestic source for these technologies.
The EU-funded VEGAS project has responded to the challenge of achieving European independence while increasing competitiveness in the field of radiation-hardened, field-programmable gate arrays (rad-hard FPGAs).
An FPGA is an integrated circuit designed to be configured after manufacture, hence the term 'field-programmable'. Radiation hardening refers to the rendering of these components resistant to damage or malfunction caused by ionising radiation, such as that encountered in outer space.
The VEGAS projects specific objective was to validate the first European-made 65nm rad-hard SRAM FPGA, to directly compete with the US offering.
VEGAS was the continuation of a previous European project, BRAVE, which resulted in fully functional FPGA prototypes aimed at the space market. The VEGAS team worked to qualify BRAVE prototypes at TRL 7, the required level for actual operations in the space environment. This involved carrying out a number of tests under extreme temperature and ionising radiation conditions, in accordance with European Cooperation for Space Standardisation (ESCC) rules.
Among the project partners were specialists in the design and development of FPGA silicon cores and highly reliable, integrated FPGA devices. Contributions from academic partners included technological simulation, radiation pre-testing, robustness-aware routing algorithms and the development of a special fault injection platform specifically designed for the FPGAs being tested.
By working to develop and prove Europe's own space-grade FPGAs, VEGAS has helped to empower the lucrative and highly beneficial European space sector to operate without import restrictions or external dependencies. This, in turn, could help deliver stronger economic performance for Europe along with all of the societal benefits linked directly to space activities.