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NASA and USAF Looking for a Next-Gen Space Processor

By - Source: VR-Zone | B 23 comments

NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory are looking for two to four companies to perform an evaluation of “advanced space-based applications” in 2020 to 2030.

In the search for an advanced next-generation processor to power the spacecraft computing needs of the future, NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory has launched the Air Force Next Generation Processor Analysis Program (AFNGPAP).

The program offers a $2 million contract (with an option for a further $20 million in funding) for between two and four companies to perform a year-long evaluation of advanced space-based applications that would use spaceflight processors in the decade of 2020 to 2030.

The hope is that this research will help yield future spacecraft processors that are powerful enough to perform tasks such as autonomous pinpoint landing with hazard detection and avoidance, real time segmented mirror control on telescopes, onboard real-time analysis of hyperspectral images, autonomous situational analysis, real-time mission planning, and real-time mode-based fault protection for spacecraft.

 “Computer processors and applications aboard spacecraft will need to transform dramatically to take advantage of computational leaps in technology and new mission needs,” said Michael Gazarik, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. “NASA's Space Technology Program is teaming with the Air Force to develop the next generation spaceflight processor requirements and propose solutions to meet future high performance space computing needs in the upcoming decades.”



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  • 17 Hide
    kunzite , April 16, 2013 8:02 PM
    IIRC, processors used in space are on a whole other level from computer processors. This is because they get exposed to environments/radiation that we don't worry about on earth. Also they must be pretty much flawless, it's a little difficult to RMA a processor that is in orbit around another body. ;) 
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    Norrec69 , April 16, 2013 6:18 PM
    In other words, newer technology gets better.
  • -4 Hide
    bartosz trzaska , April 16, 2013 6:45 PM
    Let me tell you ,once they made this chip skynet is unavoidable
  • -9 Hide
    bombebomb , April 16, 2013 7:01 PM
    They clearly have not heard of the Sandy Bridge Core I5
  • -9 Hide
    metallifux , April 16, 2013 7:17 PM
    A10-5800K
  • -4 Hide
    rocknrollz , April 16, 2013 7:22 PM
    I know there is an obvious answer that I have just missed, by why can't they use processors like the 3570k?
  • -6 Hide
    Gundam288 , April 16, 2013 7:23 PM
    Well, on the plus side heat shouldn't be an issue for overclocking in space. ^_^
  • 17 Hide
    kunzite , April 16, 2013 8:02 PM
    IIRC, processors used in space are on a whole other level from computer processors. This is because they get exposed to environments/radiation that we don't worry about on earth. Also they must be pretty much flawless, it's a little difficult to RMA a processor that is in orbit around another body. ;) 
  • -4 Hide
    kunzite , April 16, 2013 8:02 PM
    IIRC, processors used in space are on a whole other level from computer processors. This is because they get exposed to environments/radiation that we don't worry about on earth. Also they must be pretty much flawless, it's a little difficult to RMA a processor that is in orbit around another body. ;) 
  • 9 Hide
    shloader , April 16, 2013 8:40 PM
    @kunzite. You recall correctly. This isn't about performance so much as it's about getting the processor to perform the same in space as it would on the ground where it's shielded by the Earth's magnetic field. A high end processor from four years ago would accomplish the computational tasks they'd put to it, not a problem. Radiation plays serious havoc the lower the nanometer. Transistors that small are easily influenced by radiation. That's why critical computers that maintain the power grid are so shielded; solar flare activity. Even then it's hardly 100% perfect. In space they need a near perfect solution.
  • -4 Hide
    uuicked , April 16, 2013 9:00 PM
    Why does NASA need a space processor, are we planning to sell it to the Russians for 'their' rockets since we don't launch any of our own anymore? 18 Billion was the actual spending of the 2012 space budget, 17 billion is this years proposal.... that's a lot of dollars and cents for a country with zero active rockets
  • -4 Hide
    ronch79 , April 16, 2013 11:37 PM
    I vote the AMD FX. It's the world's first 8-core desktop processor. And the world's first 8-core Space processor. Perform 8 space experiments simultaneously!
  • -6 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , April 16, 2013 11:42 PM
    I bet the Hubble even has the power to run Crysis.
  • 4 Hide
    outlw6669 , April 17, 2013 1:22 AM
    Wow, a whole lot of stupid out today :pfff: 

    As kunzite already put out, processors for space based and radiation-hardened applications have a completely different set of requirements than their commercial terrestrial counterparts.

    Radiation wreaks absolute havoc on unhardened electronics and even a single error in computing can spell disaster in a mission critical system.
    Extreme ECC usage, exotic manufacturing techniques and robust design principles for rad-hard chips virtually ensure that a chip of any reasonable size will not offer performance comparable to commercial counterparts.

    Cooling is also much more complex in space as you have to deal with extreme temperature swings and there is no external moving substance to conduct heat away from the spacecraft.
    to remove excess heat from the system, you need to either use an ineffective radiative system or have a somewhat quickly depletable store of cooling gas/fluid stored onboard.
    Increasing performance on a produced chip generally leads to increased its power usage and cooling requirements; both of which are hard constraints that need to be carefully balanced in the system.

    Additionally, QC needs to be extremely high, to the point of producing 100% defect free chips (probably to the effect of having 90%+ scrap rates on less than perfect chips).
    Some redundancy should be built in to deal with the inevitable damages that occur from long usage in hostile environments, further increasing chip complexity and reducing die area for pure performance gains.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hardening

    science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast21mar_1/
  • 2 Hide
    warmon6 , April 17, 2013 4:10 AM
    I agree outlw, kunzite, and shloader....

    Come one people....... Did everyone forget that space is a different beast than what it is on Earth?

    You just cant "throw in" a everyday computer hardware into space and "hope" it last......
  • 5 Hide
    warmon6 , April 17, 2013 4:42 AM
    Quote:
    Well, on the plus side heat shouldn't be an issue for overclocking in space. ^_^


    Nope... Vacuum = heat not transferring (efficiently) into it's environment.

    Now it can still cool down via radiating heat (like the sun heating earth) but.... that's a highly ineffective way of cooling our cpu's as all our cooling designs is based on transferring heat from some mass to another mass (Heatsink to air).

    In a vacuum, to simply put, If your going to let the cpu live, your going to have to do the exact opposite of overclocking.
  • 1 Hide
    balister , April 17, 2013 5:36 AM
    Quote:
    IIRC, processors used in space are on a whole other level from computer processors. This is because they get exposed to environments/radiation that we don't worry about on earth. Also they must be pretty much flawless, it's a little difficult to RMA a processor that is in orbit around another body. ;) 


    Not completely, they're typically processors that have been tested for a quite a while, typically older processors, that are known to have longevity. Case in point, when I was in college my program was working with Motorola on their Iridium satellite network (this was early 90s). We were irradiating their chips to simulate time in space. I asked one of the guys coming down every other week or so what the processors were and he mentioned that they weren't a new design, just tweaks to an older design (the chips were originally designed in the mid 80s/mid-late 80s).

    Typically what you will see is a processor that has larger transitors (likely using processes like 65nm or 90 nm for the transitors compared to the present running at 32nm and soon 22nm). Because they're large transitors, they aren't as likely to be harmed by the gamma and x-rays flying around in space or take longer to degrade than some of the newer processes would.
  • -2 Hide
    Spooderman , April 17, 2013 6:51 AM
    ...They can have my old Pentium G4!
  • -2 Hide
    warezme , April 17, 2013 7:15 AM
    The answer is obvious, ultra low power but very powerful mobile processors used on smartphones, pads and other ultra thin form factors would seem the blatantly obvious choice. There should be no need for spending millions on researching and contracting a whole new processor.
  • -2 Hide
    bunz_of_steel , April 17, 2013 8:29 AM
    2 million funding... watch them come with an Intel Celeron with a fancy name or cooled using space dust. ...now where's that extra 20million cuz our execs are expecting bonuses this year all expense paid trip to....
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