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The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 1

The interest of the semiconductor industry for the ICs that can work in the open space has lead STMicroelectronics to enlarge its portfolio with some devices that can survive to radiations up to 300 krad/s, as the company has recently announced:

STMicroelectronics has extended its portfolio of radiation-hardened (rad-hard) devices by adding a series of LVDS1 drivers, receivers, and multiplexers carrying the US 300krad QML-V qualification2. ST’s new rad-hard devices exceed the performance of competing solutions, combining proven 130nm process technology with dedicated chip architecture and layout rules to achieve superior radiation-immunity and electrical characteristics. The development has been supported by the French Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the European Space Agency (ESA) for use in future commercial and government satellite projects. The ST devices are also QML-V qualified, enabling approval for use by space agencies and contractors worldwide.

The LVDS family incorporates many ICs that can be assembled in a module for the remote communication with a satellite or a space rocket, being robust to the radiations that are a source of noise in the aerospace environment (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

The new LVDS driver receiver qualified for the aerospace application.  (Source: STMicroelectronics web catalog)

The new LVDS driver receiver qualified for the aerospace application.
(Source: STMicroelectronics web catalog)

The product has been tested in radiation facilities by some testing procedures, whose goal is to verify the robustness of the device to the most common errors that can occur in the aerospace environment, like for example:

SEL (Single Event Latch Up)

SEU (Single Event Upset)

SETI (Single Event Transient Interruption)

I extensively described these errors in aerospace environments in my blog series about Failures in Aerospace, precisely:

(Failures in Aerospace Applications, Part 2) that contains the description of SEL

(Failures in Aerospace Applications, Part 3) that contains the description of SEU

(Failures in Aerospace Applications, Part 4) that contains the description of SETI

The qualification process of ICs for aerospace application has to simulate the noise that may be present in the space environment, so the reliability test and the irradiation campaign are really two important steps, to reach the zero-failure condition of the aerospace modules containing the ICs.

The interest of the Microelectronics companies for aerospace application is further confirmed by a new announcement of STMicroelectronics Company:

ST has supported European aerospace applications since 1977, having been qualified by the European Space Agency since the Agency’s inception. It continues to lead the performance enhancement of rad-hard products, as demonstrated with the current launch.

Today, ST is bringing into the JANS system the innovation released last year within the ESCC (European Space Components Coordination) program. Called JANSR+, the innovation consists of a series of 100krad JANSR high-dose-rate bipolar transistors with an additional 100krad low-dose-rate (100 mrad/s) test performed on each wafer. Furthermore, ST has announced it will complete its JANSR+ offer with data from very-low-dose-rate (10 mrad/s) tests, demonstrating the outstanding robustness to radiation effect of its technology.

The interest for the aerospace applications of ICs is thus growing both in Europe and in the USA, hence an agreement of regulatory bodies is required. A still open question is if a device that is ESCC qualified, it can obtain the JANS specification and vice versa. The need of common rules and criteria for the certification of the robustness of an Integrated Circuit to the radiation is becoming an important point to guarantee a good success of the companies producing aircrafts, satellites etc… The success of this kind of companies is deeply correlated with the effectiveness of the qualification process of the rad-hard ICs produced by companies like STMicroelectronics (see Figure.2):

Figure 2

The Aerospace and Defense product portfolio of STMicroelectronics.  (Source: STMicroelectronics web catalog)

The Aerospace and Defense product portfolio of STMicroelectronics.
(Source: STMicroelectronics web catalog)

The Aerospace and Defense Products can be found online at ST Microelectronics web catalog.

Do you agree? Do you think the aerospace market will expand its portfolio in the next years? Have you got experience with aerospace products?

11 comments on “The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 1

  1. etnapowers
    August 4, 2014

    The US 300krad QML-V qualification is really a reference standard in the Aerospace applications because it is very demanding in terms of radiation total dose and the IC is really under stress during the irradiation campaign that is performed to qualify the product as Radiation Hard

  2. etnapowers
    August 6, 2014

    Each big company that operates in the ICs market should have a robust aerospace portfolio because it is a very profitable business and the aerospace environment offers a lot of possibilities to the exploration with scientific purposes.

  3. chirshadblog
    August 7, 2014

    @etnapowers: Well it's a booming industry. It needs huge investments which was the main cause for blocking its path in developing in the past few years. I think now its high time for it to raise its head and come into play. 

  4. etnapowers
    August 7, 2014

    @chirshadblog: yes I agree with you, now it's time to develop a strong aerospace program in the near future and the commercial advantages for all the companies that will bet on this business will be very profitable on the short term

  5. Netcrawl
    August 7, 2014

    @etnapowers you're its a new for growth, commercial companies are joining the race but how can we develop strong aerospace program if we lack funding. Right now the government is undergoing a massive budget cuts, hardest hits are the military and NASA. The government is losing too much money and it need to make some drastci decision to save money- huge budget cuts.

    I'm not sure about NASA's future, we no longer lead the aerospace industry, we're losing our competitiveness in the global playing field, not just in aerospace but also in military.

    America is losing its strategic advantages that its stealth technology has long provided, as other countries such as China and Russia continue to improve. Both China and Russia are developing stealth and stealth countermeasures technology and they're getting better. America need to act fast, they need a new stealth technology capable of defeating enemy's countermeasures.

  6. etnapowers
    August 8, 2014

    @Netcrawl: I think that the rush to the aerospace has just begun and funding must be directed in the direction of the technologies that can make the difference between a leader country , like USA is today , and a country who tries to follow the leaders. I think that aerospace is a great opportunity for the USA , missing this chance would lead to risk to lose the primacy in many other fields , due to the presence of a lot of strong and challenging competitors.

  7. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @etnapowers: There still are some heavy weights that can give USA's space race a bit of a challenge. There's the European Space Agency, then the Soviet Union Space Agency, then we've got India's ISRO, and every one of these space monitoring agencies have had success and will be up for new challenges and newer frontiers.

  8. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “America is losing its strategic advantages that its stealth technology has long provided, as other countries such as China and Russia continue to improve. Both China and Russia are developing stealth and stealth countermeasures technology and they're getting better. America need to act fast, they need a new stealth technology capable of defeating enemy's countermeasures.”

    There are lots of stealth satellites up in space that we have no idea about, because it is classified. For a civilian, that piece of information cannot be had, unless one is Edward Snowden. The stealth power of America has always been in the top, followed by Russia and then China. What USA has to fear now is the power of the Russian president and his enthusiasm towards stealth satellite launches.

  9. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “Each big company that operates in the ICs market should have a robust aerospace portfolio because it is a very profitable business and the aerospace environment offers a lot of possibilities to the exploration with scientific purposes”

    @etnapowers: every country that has a good supply chain management associated with ICs and ICs for space projects will do nicely in the space race. The ability of an agency to outperform competitors lies in the electronics supply chain and the power of the investors.

  10. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @chirshadblog: Money as well as technology was bad in the past. Now we've got cutting edge space exploration technology (even jets sponsored by Virgin can take people to see the blacks of space) and great deal of money management which allows us to spend without having to compromise on the distance we can go. For example, even though money was tight, ISRO managed to send a probe to mars for only 73 million dollars, because of good management.

  11. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @etnapowers: I don't understand what you mean by short term. This is a tremendously over achieving business (the business of space exploration by private companies) and people with the right amounts of money would instantly approve of the idea, and this business has a potential to run for a couple of years, maybe even a few decades, if the management is right.

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