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The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 3

In part 2 of this series, I described the growing interest of companies producing ICs for aerospace applications. One example is the Infineon HiRel Selection Guide. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1

An overview of the Infineon Rad-Hard power MOSFET transistors.(Source: Infineon)

An overview of the Infineon Rad-Hard power MOSFET transistors.
(Source: Infineon)

The Infineon Company has made a great contribution to the many growing companies that are developing aerospace products for military purposes or for the scientific exploration of space.

To support these companies, NASA is launching its Next Giant Leap campaign. (See Figure 2.) The agency says on its website:

This next decade of exploration will be an exciting time of rapid technological development and testing. In December 2014, we'll conduct the first test flight of Orion. In 2015, the New Horizons mission will fly by Pluto and see the icy world up close for the first time…

Many more missions will follow on the Path to Mars. In our lifetimes, NASA and the world will take the next giant leap to explore the Red Planet.

Figure 2

The NASA's Next Giant Leap campaign.(Source: NASA)

The NASA's Next Giant Leap campaign.
(Source: NASA)

NASA and the European Space Agency are using their scientific missions to advance the knowledge of the space environment and to explore the possibilities that this environment offers to mankind.

The scientific interest is not the only reason to explore the space frontier. Some companies are exploring the possibility of offering space trips for commercial purposes, including SpaceX. (See Figure 3.) The company says on its website:

Under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA, SpaceX will fly numerous cargo resupply missions to the ISS, for a total of at least 12 — and in the near future, SpaceX will carry crew as well. Dragon was designed from the outset to carry astronauts and now, under a $440 million agreement with NASA, SpaceX is making modifications to make Dragon crew-ready. SpaceX is the world's fastest-growing provider of launch services. Profitable and cash-flow positive, the company has nearly 50 launches on its manifest, representing close to $5 billion in contracts. These include commercial satellite launches as well as NASA missions.

The main goal of companies like SpaceX is to allow people to explore space, and the most important factor is the containment of costs by means of reusable rockets.

SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket currently carries a list price of about $54 million. However, the cost of fuel for each flight is only around $200,000 — about 0.4% of the total. The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner. Each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime. Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of reaching Earth orbit by a hundredfold.

Figure 3

A rocket from the SpaceX air fleet.(Source: SpaceX)

A rocket from the SpaceX air fleet.
(Source: SpaceX)

What do you think of the utilization of space aircraft for scientific (NASA, ESA) or commercial (SpaceX) purposes? Do you think the success of radiation qualification campaigns by companies producing the ICs mounted in the space vehicles is correlated with the success of space missions and commercial flights?

47 comments on “The Next Frontier of Integrated Circuits: Space, Part 3

  1. etnapowers
    August 19, 2014

    The Orion test by NASA holds promises to become a reference for spatial explorations in the next years. The NASA company is betting on the new technologies of ICs to create a sustainable program focused on the possibilities offered by the open Space.

  2. etnapowers
    August 19, 2014

    The SpaceX company has a really challenging goal: the Space exploration for the common people , and not only for astronauts. I think this is a good strategy and the electronics can really help to achieve this result.

  3. Netcrawl
    August 19, 2014

    @Paolo nice post! SpaceX has a great technology but its Falcon 9 rocket, which completed four flights to date, was not certified to carry military payloads at the time the block-buy contarct was announced. Certifcation requires successful flights and a detailed engineering reviews. But I think its much deeper not just engineering matters.

    Falcon 9 run some problem after SpaceX lost the $ 11 billion contact to United Launch Services ( a ULA subsidiary), last december. The massive military contract covers the acquisition of some three dozen rocket cores, needed to build boosters for a wide range of military payloads- ranging from navigation satellites and highly classified spy satellites. ULA is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

    SpaceX filed a suit, challenging the government's block-buy contract, SpaceX believes that Falcon 9 is a viable option for military payloads and that sole-contract with ULA unfairly restrict space competition. But according to US Air Force ULA is the “only responsible source” and “the only sole provider” that could meet US Air Force's requirements. 

  4. Netcrawl
    August 19, 2014

    @etnapowers Yes I agree with you, the Orion program promises great potential and benefits. NASA is in great need of something good, ULA is the workhorse of the heavy satellites launch in the US ( not just NASA but also the Military) , but the problem with ULA is that its requires a Russian RD 180m engine to get off the ground, we're too dependent to Russian rockets engines for most of our launch needs.

    I think we need to take some changes here, the recent geopolitical disputes between Russia and US could threaten our space program they could ban all sales of RD 180 engines in US companies. And then there's the security issues because we're using and relying on foreign suplier for most our launch needs, not just NASA but also the AirForce. 

  5. Myled
    August 20, 2014

    “NASA and the European Space Agency are using their scientific missions to advance the knowledge of the space environment and to explore the possibilities that this environment offers to mankind. The scientific interest is not the only reason to explore the space frontier. Some companies are exploring the possibility of offering space trips for commercial purposes, including SpaceX.”

    Paola, in all countries most of the space researches are carrying out by federal government with the help of government funded space agencies. These agencies are working in monopolistic nature without involving any private companies or agencies. Do you think that is it the right way; why they are not involving any private companies for such ventures? Many private companies are making aircrafts and military vehicles.

  6. Myled
    August 20, 2014

    “but the problem with ULA is that its requires a Russian RD 180m engine to get off the ground, we're too dependent to Russian rockets engines for most of our launch need”

    Netcrawl, still NASA is depending Russia for such engines. Why NASA is not taking any steps for a homemade engine.

  7. Myled
    August 20, 2014

    “The SpaceX company has a really challenging goal: the Space exploration for the common people , and not only for astronauts. I think this is a good strategy and the electronics can really help to achieve this result.”

    Etnapowers, how common peoples can derive benefits from such situation? Anyway, if any private companies venture into such domains, investments are high and they will always look for ROI.

  8. Netcrawl
    August 20, 2014

    @Myanalog thanks for that, The reality is Falcon 9 rocket is only capable of taking on medium sized payloads or smaller satellites, its not good for heavier payloads. It would going to take years an american alternative to Russian RD-180, currently NASA is doing some financial assessment of how to replace the RD-180. The Russian- built RD-180 is probably the most advanced in the rocket engine in the world and its proven not just on paper but also in the field, and worked extremely very well. And we dont have that kind of rocket.

    NASA is still in the process of figuring it out, how to build an alternative. Its really a tough fight for them because they're facing huge budget cuts and its hurting space projects. 

     

     

  9. etnapowers
    August 20, 2014

    @Netcrawl: thank you for telling the Falcon 9 story. It's a good example of the challenges that the rush to space represents for companies like SpaceX.Do you think that SpaceX will finally win the business ?

  10. samicksha
    August 20, 2014

    Another fact i love about Orion is its computer function which i found is very much unique. They claim It can process 480 million instructions per second. That’s 25 times faster than the International Space Station’s computers, 400 times faster than the space shuttle’s computers and 4,000 times faster than Apollo’s.

  11. RedDerek
    August 20, 2014

    It is a shame that the USA, once the leader in space and technology, has fallen so far behind. I wonder what would type of “kick” would it take to get this country going back to the leadership role? All the out-sourcing and public assistance is not working out.

  12. etnapowers
    August 20, 2014

    @Myanalog: I think that the companies NASA and SpaceX work in different sectors of activity with different targets. Both of this aspects are important, so both sides have to be further considered for this promising aerospace business.

  13. etnapowers
    August 21, 2014

    @Myanalog: I think that common people may enjoy the possibility to explore the open space in a safe and comfortable mode. You're right: ROI is really a key point for all the companies that will bet on this business.

  14. goafrit2
    August 22, 2014

    >> “but the problem with ULA is that its requires a Russian RD 180m engine to get off the ground, we're too dependent to Russian rockets engines for most of our launch need”

    Welcome SpaceX. I think they have an answer for that. Yet, I am still surprised there is a type of engine America cannot or reverse that it has to depend on Russia these years

     

  15. goafrit2
    August 22, 2014

    >>It is a shame that the USA, once the leader in space and technology, has fallen so far behind. 

    That is not true. U.S. is having the best of its decade in the space. It is driven by private sector. That government is not doing it does not mean it is not being done!

  16. fasmicro
    August 22, 2014

    You're right: ROI is really a key point for all the companies that will bet on this business.

    Most will do well because since NASA is no more when they show signs of stress, government will bail them out. Why? Without them, US exits the space industry completely which no administration will like. It is like another big bank now. You need them win or lose. SpaceX will do really well over time.

  17. Myled
    August 25, 2014

    “The reality is Falcon 9 rocket is only capable of taking on medium sized payloads or smaller satellites, its not good for heavier payloads. It would going to take years an american alternative to Russian RD-180, currently NASA is doing some financial assessment of how to replace the RD-180. The Russian- built RD-180 is probably the most advanced in the rocket engine in the world and its proven not just on paper but also in the field, and worked extremely very well. And we dont have that kind of rocket.”

    Netcrawl, this is for which orbit, polar or geo synch. But I heard that other countries like China, India, France etc have similar rockets to carry payloads up to 2000 Kg.

  18. Myled
    August 25, 2014

    “Another fact i love about Orion is its computer function which i found is very much unique. They claim It can process 480 million instructions per second. That's 25 times faster than the International Space Station's computers, 400 times faster than the space shuttle's computers and 4,000 times faster than Apollo's.”

    Samicksha, adding or enhancing the existing computing power is not a big issue. You know that now a days Smartphones are coming with 1.5GHz Octa processor. When we look for top 500 super computers most of them are in Peta scale computing range.

  19. Myled
    August 25, 2014

    “I think that the companies NASA and SpaceX work in different sectors of activity with different targets. Both of this aspects are important, so both sides have to be further considered for this promising aerospace business.”

    Etnapowers, space mission is not a business; it's a mission for national security, surveillance and communication.

  20. chirshadblog
    August 25, 2014

    @Myanalog: But still its not an Non-Profit Organization. So they too do expect profits.

  21. samicksha
    August 25, 2014

    I agree you fasmicro, in fact they have to, SpaceX already have good list of jobs to do with around 50 future launches under contract.

  22. geek
    August 25, 2014

    “It is a shame that the USA, once the leader in space and technology, has fallen so far behind”

    @RedDerek: I don't really think it's a shame. I think it has been because of a budget crunch over the years and more importance to other issues faced by the US. Although it does affect the pride of US citizens, I don't think the governments really had a choice over the years to not stop the budgets.

  23. geek
    August 25, 2014

    “Why? Without them, US exits the space industry completely which no administration will like”

    @fasmicro: I think that's likely to happen and it is important for the US to continue their existence. Already we can see their position being weaken as other countries make advancements. Even countries like India and China are getting into the competition now. I think the focus has to be revived if the program is to be sustained in the long run.

  24. Myled
    August 27, 2014

    “But still its not an Non-Profit Organization. So they too do expect profits.”

    Chirshadblog, its not accounted for profits instead accounted in terms of national benefits and technology values.

  25. Myled
    August 27, 2014

    ” I think that the companies NASA and SpaceX work in different sectors of activity with different targets. Both of this aspects are important, so both sides have to be further considered for this promising aerospace business.”

    Etnapowers, right. Most of the countries have separate departments/organizations for defence, avionics, space, moon, mars missions. The ultimate aim is to elevate or place the technology at high level and hence countries pride too.

  26. Myled
    August 28, 2014

    “I think that common people may enjoy the possibility to explore the open space in a safe and comfortable mode. You're right: ROI is really a key point for all the companies that will bet on this business.”

    Etnapowers, you are right. I think to an extend collaborative research can happen with private companies. I mean in the sense jointly developing space vehicles/components by NASA and other companies.

  27. Myled
    September 1, 2014

    “But still its not an Non-Profit Organization. So they too do expect profits.”

    Chirsh, am working as an space scientist. For us we don't want to make any profit; but we have to elevate our national pride by enhancing or advance in technology. For us profit is in name and fame of country.

  28. Davidled
    September 8, 2014

    India and China might get lesson learned from USA space business. Still, now USA space researches are very much dominant influence in the world. I think that NASA will continue to explore the space in alternative way.

  29. goafrit2
    September 10, 2014

    >> Etnapowers, space mission is not a business; it's a mission for national security, surveillance and communication.

    There is also a business here. They call it space tourism. Just as people go to beaches and far cities, some enjoy going to the space.

  30. goafrit2
    September 10, 2014

    >> , SpaceX already have good list of jobs to do with around 50 future launches under contract.

    I am not sure if SpaceX makes integrated circuits. Nevertheless, it has demonstrated what great minds can do to transform industrial sectors. Never in the history of mankind has a company risen to the top echelon within a short time in highly regulated risky business like space. They have done many things right.

  31. goafrit2
    September 10, 2014

    While NASA might have exited, the private sector is doing just fine. There is no model that says government must drive the space industry. The key thing is that NASA must make available its porfolio of patents free to all companies that want to play roles here.

  32. samicksha
    September 11, 2014

    I agree you, we are still on way towards progress and USA still being dominant. I guess manufacturing and research is key here.

  33. Myled
    September 12, 2014

    “There is also a business here. They call it space tourism. Just as people go to beaches and far cities, some enjoy going to the space.”

    Goafrit2, I read about that but so far never seen.

  34. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    @samiksha: Not only research and manufacturing, but constant supply of premium parts of electronics through an aptly monitored electronic supply chain. Most silicon valley based vendors understand what kind of potential market holding the space race can achieve and hence they are churning out goods that would help USA gain advantage in space exploration sectors.

  35. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “Never in the history of mankind has a company risen to the top echelon within a short time in highly regulated risky business like space. They have done many things right.”

    @goafrit2: It indeed is pretty risky. Most vendors are given contracts of building materials for a particular space journey and the possibilities of disasters are endless, and therefore companies generally shudder at the thought of a failed launch because it causes them the contract with NASA which otherwise would have developed successful relationships between NASA and the company.

  36. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “For us profit is in name and fame of country.”

    @Myanalog: I'm not sure that name and fame alone can bring profits, but if the company creates history, then it would have a great popularity, which would make it receive many more contracts from other companies, which is a profit in itself.

  37. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “India and China might get lesson learned from USA space business. Still, now USA space researches are very much dominant influence in the world.”

    @DaeJ: NASA is the biggest and the most successful, and not to mention economically the most powerful space agency and it is only natural that other countries would be lagging behind the powerhouse. What NASA lacks is a proper management otherwise if properly managed, its space missions would not have met with much criticism about the funding and management.

  38. Sachin
    September 30, 2014

    “They claim It can process 480 million instructions per second. That's 25 times faster than the International Space Station's computers, 400 times faster than the space shuttle's computers and 4,000 times faster than Apollo's.”

    @Samicksha: I second with MyAnalog. Most flights are accurate to a centimetre because an angular difference of about 5 degrees can send a craft thousands of kilometres off the predetermined track. Obviously the on board computers would have to be such highly capable.

  39. Davidled
    October 1, 2014

    My view is that both management skill and protocol handling the space program were firmly implemented in the NASA. I am wondering what type management must be more improved to meet “a proper management.” I think that there are two management protocols: (1). Engineering management; (2). Administrator management.

  40. fasmicro
    October 4, 2014

    >> I agree you, we are still on way towards progress and USA still being dominant. I guess manufacturing and research is key here

    The biggest reason US will remain on top of our industry is its capacity to deploy quality capital in R&D. In the electronics industry, US commands the top spot of the innovation ecosystem.

  41. fasmicro
    October 4, 2014

    >> Goafrit2, I read about that but so far never seen.

    If you have $1M to spend, there are companies offering that right now in Russia. The boy friend of Martha Stewart did space torusim few years ago. The business is alive and people are paying for same.

  42. fasmicro
    October 4, 2014

    >>  Most silicon valley based vendors understand what kind of potential market holding the space race can achieve and hence they are churning out goods that would help USA gain advantage in space exploration sectors.

    Space business is not largely a Silicon Vally business. It is very regulated and also expensive. This is the beltway business. That SpaceX was able to crash this party is what makes Elon Musk a genius in this age. It is not a small feat when you look at the time they began and what they have accomplished.

  43. goafrit2
    October 4, 2014

    “For us profit is in name and fame of country.”

    I do not understand that point very well. Understand that US has always had bankrupt companies. While your history is great as a company, your present state matters. Nokia, Alcatel, Lehman Brothers etc are companies with history that have sufferred.

  44. goafrit2
    October 4, 2014

     What NASA lacks is a proper management otherwise if properly managed, its space missions would not have met with much criticism about the funding and management.

    What area could you show that NASA has not been properly managed. My understanding of the problem in NASA is simply that US has economic challenges that they may be unable to do everything unlike many years ago. But as the economy rebounds and tax dollar increases, US will be up again.

  45. goafrit2
    October 7, 2014

    I agree you, we are still on way towards progress and USA still being dominant. I guess manufacturing and research is key here.

    Obama just announced a new era of manufacturing by offering a grant of $100M for a Photonics manufacturing institute and that is to help US stay on top of the optical chip connection. Read EETimes for this.

  46. Myled
    October 8, 2014

    “I'm not sure that name and fame alone can bring profits, but if the company creates history, then it would have a great popularity, which would make it receive many more contracts from other companies, which is a profit in itself.”

    SachinEE, am talking about government and government funded public sector companies. For private companies profit is the driving force and they need it for survival.

  47. Myled
    October 13, 2014

    “If you have $1M to spend, there are companies offering that right now in Russia. The boy friend of Martha Stewart did space torusim few years ago. The business is alive and people are paying for same.”

    Fasmicro, $1M; if I have that much money, you won't be able to find me in this forum.  I may in some elite class category.

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