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ARM in Space

Like most “science kids”, I grew up interested in rockets and space exploration. I haven’t completely outgrown it – does anyone ever? – so it was not surprising that a recent blog on EDN by Rajan Bedi, Spacecraft data handling using ARM-based processors, caught my eye. (Bedi is the CEO of a consulting company called Spacechips, which focused on space electronics. Is Spacechips a great name or what?)

Bedi writes that, at some space industry FPGA conferences he had attended this year, there was much discussion about “the need for a small, low-power, high performing MCU to replace larger, more dissipative FPGAs. For localized control and processing, such as sensor TT&C [telemetry, tracking, and command] or digital control of a voltage regulator, a dedicated MCU would offer a more efficient CPU/DSP option.”

He then suggests that the answer may be close at hand, given that ARM-based chips are so ubiquitous today. How ubiquitous? Try 90 billion of them, in our phones, tablets, cars, wearables, and IoT devices. That’s ubiquity.

The ubiquitous ARM architecture offers small, low-power, high-performance cores, many of which are being used in safety-critical applications, such as car braking systems, power steering, self-driving vehicles, aircraft, medical, railway and industrial control sub-systems, conforming to fail-safe standards.

Bedi points to the proven reliability of ARM-based systems, and asks:

“…could the space industry also benefit from the performance, power, size, ease of use, and accessibility benefits of the ARM architecture? There is a huge, tried and tested ecosystem spacex_crs-10_patchavailable to enable developers to build reliable control and DSP embedded applications.”

After mentioning a few commercially available space-grade options, he goes into a full description of the use of an ARM processor to handle localized control and processing functions. Okay, it’s pretty much a free ad for Vorago’s VA 10820, a “radiation hardened ARM Cortex – M0 MCU”, but that doesn’t take much if anything away from the overall write-up. This radiation-hardened technology, by the way, will soon be getting a space shot. It’s deployed “on the Vorago’s radiation-hardened technology will soon be getting a space shot. It’s deployed “on the STP-H5 payload to be launched by SpaceX and further parts will enter orbit next year on a GEO mission as well as a LEO spacecraft.”

If you’re one of those “science kids” who grew up interested in rockets and space exploration, and went on to become an electronics engineer, you should definitely read the entire post.