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Historic Phoenix Mars Mission Flies Actel RTAX-S Devices

Low-power Space FPGAs used in battery- and solar-powered mission-essential instruments to acquire and process vital environmental data
by Staff Writers
Mountain View CA (SPX) Aug 07, 2007
Bringing the benefits of low-power solutions to mission-essential instruments, Actel reports that its radiation-tolerant RTAX-S field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are aboard NASA's Phoenix mission to Mars, which launched August 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Phoenix spacecraft includes a Meteorological Station (MET), provided by the Canadian Space Agency.

MDA, a leading provider of robotic space systems, led construction of the MET instrument and has integrated Actel's one-million gate RTAX1000S-CQ352 device into the instrument subsystem, which is used to acquire, process and transmit temperature and pressure data to scientists and researchers back on Earth.

"We have a stringent review and evaluation process for our suppliers," said Andrew Kerr, program manager for the MET program at MDA. "Following this review, we determined that the RTAX1000S-CQ352 provided the high reliability and stringent low-power metrics required for this mission-essential function. Using the high-density RTAX-S Actel device, MDA's MET instrument temperature and pressure subsystem is designed to provide accurate data throughout the mission, without failures."

Phoenix Mission Requires Low-power, High-reliability Instrumentation
The Phoenix mission will study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil. The Phoenix spacecraft includes the MET built by MDA, which will record the daily weather of the Martian northern plains using temperature and pressure sensors.

Once the Phoenix arrives on Mars, the MET instruments will be used constantly in surface operations, which are expected to last 150 days. These instruments are central to scientific exploration on Mars, providing the essential tools scientists need to learn more about the Martian climate and geology, as well as determine whether life has ever existed. The MET instrument will contribute to the success of the Phoenix mission.

The MET instruments operate on a combination of battery power and solar energy. Because sunlight in the Martian polar region is even weaker than at its equator, all systems and their components must feature extremely efficient power management.

"MDA needed a 'no risk,' low-power solution to develop their multi-million dollar system for space flight," said Rich Brossart, vice president of product marketing at Actel. "Actel's antifuse-based technology combines radiation tolerance with the industry's lowest power, enabling it to withstand the rigorous environments of space flight and exploration."

Actel's RTAX-S Family Ideal for Mission-Critical Space Applications
The Actel radiation-tolerant RTAX-S FPGA family consists of devices ranging in density from 250,000 to 4-million equivalent system gates.

The family, which includes the RTAX1000S used in the Phoenix mission's flight, offers unique features desirable for space-flight applications, including single-event upset (SEU)-hardened flip-flops, usable error-corrected on-board memory and a large number of user I/O.

These, in combination with the inherent benefits of Actel's nonvolatile products, give designers the ability to minimize power consumption, reduce component count and save board space and weight while meeting their density, performance and radiation-resistance requirements.

Actel is a leading provider of FPGAs for high-reliability space applications. Over the last decade, Actel FPGAs have been onboard more than 100 launches and flown on over 300 satellites and spacecraft, including GPS, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Explorer Rovers 1 and 2 (Spirit and Opportunity), Echostar and Globalstar.

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Building Shields For Your Starship
Preston, UK (SPX) Apr 19, 2007
In the last year space agencies in the United States, Europe, China, Japan and India have announced their intention to resume human exploration of the Solar system, beginning with the Moon and perhaps ultimately moving on to Mars.

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