NASA wants 100x upgrade for space computers • The Register

NASA has awarded a $50 million contract to Microchip Technology, the microcontroller giant, to develop next-generation processors that will allow space computers to be 100 times faster than they are today.

If NASA is to achieve its goal of exploring the solar system more deeply, it will need to develop advanced computers capable of performing complex navigation and communication tasks for everything from spacecraft to robotic rovers.

So the US space agency wants a range of rugged processors that can not only survive harsh environments with extreme temperatures and high cosmic radiation, but will also have at least 100 times the computing capacity of current computer chips in the world. ‘space.

“This state-of-the-art spaceflight processor will have a huge impact on our future space missions and even technologies here on Earth,” Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation at the Space Technology Missions Directorate, said this week.

“This effort will amplify existing spacecraft capabilities and enable new ones, and could ultimately be used by virtually all future space missions, all benefiting from more capable flight computing.”

NASA tapped Microchip Technology – an Arizona company founded in the 1980s and famous for its line of PIC chips – to develop its next-generation space chip. The $50 million deal will fund Microchip’s efforts to design and manufacture the so-called HPSC (High-Performance Spaceflight Computing) processor over three years. NASA wants the chip architecture to be reliable, capable of operating with higher fault tolerance, and much more powerful.

The processor design should be general enough to support a wide range of applications, including AI, edge computing, Ethernet data transmission, and other communication systems. Microchip will need to think about how the chip can be adapted to power all types of missions that will monitor Earth, explore Mars, or possibly support astronauts to (and on) the Moon.

“We are delighted that NASA has selected Microchip as a partner to develop the next-generation space-qualified compute processor platform,” said Babak Samimi, vice president of Microchip’s Communications Business Unit.

“We will foster an industry-wide ecosystem of single-board computing partners anchored on Microchip’s HPSC processor and space-qualified complete system solutions to benefit from a new generation of compute designs. peak peaks optimized for size, weight and power.

It’s time for NASA to revamp its space computers, according to Wesley Powell, NASA’s lead technologist for advanced avionics. “Our current spaceflight computers were developed nearly 30 years ago. Although they have served past missions well, future NASA missions require significantly increased onboard computing capabilities and reliability. The new processor computing will provide the required advances in performance, fault tolerance and flexibility to meet these future mission requirements.

The register asked NASA and Microchip Technology for more comment. ®