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5 Intriguing Uses of FPGA In Outer Space

Posted by Danielle Leger

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May 18, 2015 9:19:16 AM


Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) devices have been used in space for over ten years with a mixed level of success, as a result to their sensitivity to involuntary reconfiguration. This is due to Single Event Upsets (SEU) which is caused by radiation. However, FPGAs are still favored over other electronic components like microcontrollers. 

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FPGAs are used in many different space applications due to their flexibility, high performance and long product life. FPGAs that are designed and tested specifically for space provide better protection against SEU. For example, Xilinx Virtex-5QV space grade FPGA provides almost 1,000 time the SEU hardness of standard cell latches compared to the comerical component. Space grade FPGAs are built on a foundation of hardened latches, decreasing the chance for needing SEU prevention methods.

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FPGA Applications In Space 

Software-defined radio: (SDR) is a wireless communication system whose functionality can be configured using software or programmable hardware (FPGA). Traditional radio transmitters and receivers can usually send and receive a single type of signal, but SDRs are more versatile. SDR hardware can communicate at different frequencies using various wireless options such as Bluetooth, FM radio, Wi-Fi, and GPS technology. 

Digital Signal Processing: is used to interpret digital patterns in all types of technology. DSP applications have shaped the growth in the exploration of outer space. While FPGAs have been used in DSP applications for years, they have been gaining attention because of their versatility and speed compared to other processors such as microcontrollers.

Cryptography:  FPGAs are equipped with cryptography technology. If a device that uses FPGA falls into the wrong hands, this prevents the culprit from extracting the information contained within it. This feature is valuable in military applications. Xilinx Virtex 6Q third generation FPGA are specially manufactured as defense-grade, suitable for mission critical applications.

Radio Astronomy: Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Each type of electromagnetic radiation is produced by particular conditions, which astronomers can detect, sometimes by using telescopes on the ground. Over the years radio astronomy has detected many new types of objects in outer space.

The Mars Exploration Rover (MER), Curiosity, uses Xilinx FPGA for numerous applications. Xilinx FPGA are used in computer vision, to capture and relay images of Mars's surface. The FPGA used in the rover are space grade, meaning that the chips are designed to withstand radiation. The FPGA are easily reconfigurable and can be changed from afar. Additionally, the FPGA are also used to control the space rover's intricate landing and descent procedures.

If you are in the market for Xilinx or Altera FPGA, check out our current inventory of specially priced FPGA.

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Topics: FPGA

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