I’ve spent the last several blogs looking at several different performance metrics for LDOs. In this installment, we will take a look at an important aspect of product development for the space market, radiation testing. The title I have chosen has a few interesting meanings for this blog. Considering the time of year and all the Christmas lights abounding, it made me think of my recent experience performing radiation testing at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University down in College Station, Texas. I was there looking at radiation effects on one of our products at Analog Devices. I recall growing up thinking of radiation making things glow or, as we may have called it, being lit up like a Christmas tree. The expression has other meanings but I think it serves the purpose here pretty well in a discussion of radiation testing.
One of the many important aspects of the environment in space to consider is radiation. Products must be at least radiation tolerant to perform in the harsh environment of space. Without the Earth’s atmosphere to offer protection, products in space are exposed to many different forms and amounts of radiation as well as other things like solar flares, cosmic rays, etc. For a little more insight you can check out two blogs from my colleague Kristen Villimez at Jupiter: The IC Danger Zone, Part 1 and Jupiter: The IC Danger Zone, Part 2. As can be assessed from these two blogs there are different levels and types of radiation exposure depending upon your location in the galaxy. Jupiter turns out to be a pretty harsh location for radiation.
So let’s move on and take a closer look at the cyclotron at Texas A&M. There are several of these facilities in the United States and around the world that can be used to perform radiation testing. As a matter of fact, many hospitals have a facility to perform radiation therapy for cancer patients. Obviously these facilities aren’t conducive to testing electronic devices since the facilities at a hospital must be kept sterile. Upon arriving at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M, my first impression walking into the control room pictured below was: “Wow! The control panels are lit up like a Christmas tree!!” This is another way I would think of this expression growing up when I’d see something that had many lights on it. My next thought was how much it reminded me of a movie from my childhood, War Games. The control room reminded me of several scenes from that movie from their control room such as the one pictured here: War Games: Control Room. Can you see the similarities?
Cyclotron Control Room at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M
In so many way it is impressive that this facility has been in operation for as long as it has. From what I can gather via online search it appears that it has been in existence since approximately 1967. I am not sure which to think is more impressive; the fact that it is still operating well or that engineers so many years ago were able to design and build this system to do the things it does with the available technology of the day. I suppose that it should not be that much of a shock since we were able to place men into space in the same decade. Take a look at the photo of control panel area one with the analog gauges and all the push buttons on the display. These are not something you see very much of today!
Control Panel Area One at the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M