NASA has chosen Microchip Technology to develop a High-Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC) processor that it claims will provide at least 100 times the computing capacity of current space computers.
NASA’s space computing may be in dire need of an upgrade, as current systems “were developed nearly 30 years ago,” according to Wesley Powell, NASA’s chief technologist for advanced avionics, and “future NASA missions will require significantly more onboard computing power and reliability.”
Microchip Technology, based in Chandler, Arizona, specializes in manufacturing microcontrollers, mixed-signal, analog and Flash-IP integrated circuits and has been in business for over 30 years.
How will the project work?
Microchip will work on the design and delivery of the HPSC processor over the next three years, with the goal of deploying the processor in future exploration missions on the moon and planets.
The work will be under a fixed-price contract of $50 million, with Microchip contributing significant research and development costs to complete the project.
Microchip’s new processor architecture reportedly provides the flexibility for processing power to “ebb and flow” depending on current operational requirements, meaning certain processing functions can also be disabled when not in use, reducing power consumption.
NASA says the capability will save a large amount of energy and improve overall computing efficiency for space missions.
The new processor could also have its own applications here on Earth.
NASA says the new technology could also be useful for commercial systems on Earth that require similar mission-critical edge computing needs to space missions, and should be able to continue safely if any part of the system fails.
These potential applications apparently include industrial automation, time-sensitive Ethernet data transfer, artificial intelligence and even Internet of Things gateways, bridging different communication technologies.
High-performance computing is clearly something on NASA’s radar, as it recently implemented Azure Quantum as part of a project to reduce the time it takes to send instructions between spacecraft from hours to just minutes.
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