Advertisement

Blog

The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 2

In The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 1, I described the progressive enhancement of the portfolio of companies producing ICs for aerospace applications. That’s, for example, the case with Atmel, which has made a great contribution to the space community, comprising many growing companies that operate in the aerospace market.

Atmel France Aerospace, a company producing ICs for aerospace applications. (Source: Atmel)

Atmel France Aerospace, a company producing ICs for aerospace applications.
(Source: Atmel)

Atmel enlarged its portfolio in the recent past by adding some radiation-hardened products. According to its website:

    Atmel France Aerospace gives customers access to the latest innovative commercial technologies by adapting them to rad-hard applications requirements. The 180nm process is in full production, and Atmel France Aerospace is now introducing a 150nm mixed process, 90nm and 65nm.

    The same manufacturing lines are used to produce automotive and rad-hard devices. This dual-use approach allows highly competitive and proven, reliable solutions.

    Our circuits are available in rad-hard versions that meet the stringent requirements (cumulated dose, latch-up and transient phenomena) of space applications. Design and manufacturing facilities reach international quality standards recognition and are QML-V or ESCC certified.

Most of these companies work on the development of an aerospace portfolio of products either for military purposes or for scientific purposes of exploration of space.

That’s the role of the European Space Agency, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of European space exploration activity. ESA has some space rockets that have been utilized for commercial purposes, like the Ariane 5:

    Ariane 5 is the cornerstone of Europe’s independent access to space. Its reliability, availability and affordability are based on a strategy where a significant part of the exploitation costs is financed through commercial activity.

    Ariane 5 is launched six to seven times a year, of which only one or two are for institutional customers.

The Arian 5 flight log for 1996 to 2014. (Source: ESA)

The Arian 5 flight log for 1996 to 2014.
(Source: ESA)

ESA has accomplished many space missions for scientific purposes, like, for example, the recent landing on a comet and the scanning of Earth's atmosphere to precisely analyze its climate and scanning Earth's geology from a different perspective — the space view. This perspective is limitless, because open space is an environment that remains virtually unknown. Hence there is a lot of potential in this field.

Do you think this is an opportunity that is not to be missed by IC producers in the near future? Do you think that each big player in the semiconductor market should have a good portfolio of products for aerospace applications? In your opinion, is it a profitable business for the makers of integrated circuits?

14 comments on “The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 2

  1. etnapowers
    August 12, 2014

    “The 180nm process is in full production, and Atmel France Aerospace is now introducing a 150nm mixed process, 90nm and 65nm” The progressive reduction of the dimensions of the ICs has the advantage of allowing more integration but it implies the drawback of relativistic effects due to the short – channel effect. This aspect gives more importance to the efforts of Atmel in the European aerospace industrial scenario.

  2. RDesmond
    August 13, 2014

    Having been a design engineer for Space Products/Applications for a number of years I'd like to comment that in general it's a tough business.  On one hand Rad Hard components are very expensive and have limited availability due to the low volume demand of end products the customer desires and in turn this low demand creates limited possibilities for the designer due to the “small toolbox” scope of component options when designing the most basic circuit.  In the consumer world a lot of these circuits have already been shrunken down into an IC 3 decades ago.  NOTE:  IC's don't respond well to radiation bombardment!  Take all of this into consideration and then add on top of it all the facts that the government (military primarily) is the lion share of funding for these project designs and they have become increasingly bureaucratic over time as well as paranoid needing “more accountability & transparency” due to limited budget (think “earmarked contracts” + DOD contractor = whores + Limmos + senatorial resignations like back in the early 2000's) AND years of redtape to meet program compliance (we sometimes find that we have to “design for test” just to meet program requirements but realize they will never be needed in real applications found in outer space), in other words we keep MIL-STD's from the days of apollo that seem unlikely.  BUT I have seen some interesting components finally come out in Rad Hard versions allowing for more design capability (if you can get a contract signed that can afford it).  However, don't think you are going to shrink down a complicated electromechanical communications system into the latest wiz-bang technology for under at least a few hundred $ per single quanity to handle a multi-year mission in a harsh environment.  Government expects high performance, weighty MIL-STD compliance for little money in a smaller package in shorter time than they did 10 or even 5 years ago!

  3. etnapowers
    August 14, 2014

    ” IC's don't respond well to radiation bombardment! ” Yes, in the past this was true but fortunately today the processes of silicon diffusion are more robust to the radiations and the available design solutions have got an increased effectiveness.

  4. etnapowers
    August 14, 2014

    “…and then add on top of it all the facts that the government (military primarily) is the lion share of funding for these project design…” The third part of this Blog series describes a company that is utilizing the shuttles for commercial purposes, it's an interesting option for this aerospace sector.

  5. Davidled
    August 14, 2014

    SpaceX might be one of company for commercial shuttles and I think that Boeing might also participate for this project. But, toward the commercial shuttles, they need to define the criteria of passenger before taking them on the board including the safety measurement of both shuttles and passenger.

  6. etnapowers
    August 15, 2014

    Agreed, this is a really promising business, I think that the price to be paid to ensure a safe travel to the passengers is the total compliance with the safety requirements.

  7. samicksha
    August 15, 2014

    You are right etnapowers, not so sure but i guess cosmic rays is one of the primary concern for spacecraft, making couple test cases public can make passengers more comfortable during their travel.

  8. fasmicro
    August 15, 2014

    Unless you are packing lots of digital transistors in one die, the inherent advantages of many nanometer CMOS processes in analog design meet diminishing returns as you move closer to the sub-22nm. From gate oxide breakdown to more static power dissipation, most things do not turn out as expected.

  9. fasmicro
    August 15, 2014

    ” IC's don't respond well to radiation bombardment! ” Yes, in the past this was true but fortunately today the processes of silicon diffusion are more robust to the radiations and the available design solutions have got an increased effectiveness. 

    True – have worked on radiation-hardened processes that can withstand any radiation you throw at it. Some of those processes are classified.

  10. etnapowers
    August 16, 2014

    @samicksha: that's correct, moreover cosmic rays may create SEE in the electronic circuitry of an aircraft hence the electronic modules have to be robust to the radiation and the passengers of the aircraft have to be protected from the radiations by a screen , to make their trip safe and comfortable .

  11. samicksha
    August 21, 2014

    You reminded of DRAM errors caused by radiation of packaging material.

  12. Davidled
    September 2, 2014

    I am wondering what brand name of DRAM gets the error by radiation. I think that radiation might be related to electromagnetic waves. DRAM package and electrical characteristics might be reviewed.

  13. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @etnapowers: I second that, radiation susceptible electronics might malfunction and it would be necessary all forms of on board electronics are tried and tested for being unaltered by radiation, this is very important because space exploration (paid trips to space by consumers) would be a big business within a couple of years. Any one disaster can shut down this business altogether.

  14. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @Rdesmond: Obviously there are short comings of making a space project, and there are so many things to take notice on, including funding, contractors, electronic supply chain management, government issues etc, give all that and provide better team support and superior management and you've got a good space agency that can make clever decisions.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.