CAES and Lattice partner for in-orbit reconfigurability in space of FPGAs -

CAES and Lattice partner for in-orbit reconfigurability in space of FPGAs

Partnership between CAES and Lattice Semiconductor aims to fill a gap in the market between large FPGAs and processors, and small FPGAs and microcontrollers for space applications.

CAES and Lattice Semiconductor have announced an agreement whereby CAES will qualify and sell radiation-tolerant Lattice FPGAs, targeting applications that demand in-orbit reconfigurability for processing systems in future satellite constellations.

The collaboration addresses the growing demand for reprogrammable, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) programmable devices in satellite networks that require a high degree of redundancy and radiation tolerance. “The space industry realizes that it can no longer rely solely on proprietary technology if it’s going to meet the growing affordability needs of satellites deployed in low- earth orbits,” said David Young, chief technology officer, CAES. “Our collaboration with Lattice will promote the development of open, scalable, upgradable architectures that are compatible and affordable.”

We caught up with CAES executives David Meyouhas, senior director of microelectronics, and John Bratton, product marketing manager, to learn more about the partnership with Lattice.  Meyouhas said, “We’ve been looking at the FPGA market for a while and saw there’s a ‘blue ocean’ between low-end and high-end FPGAs for space. Lattice Semiconductor is the number one in volume sales for FPGAs, and we have really complementary strengths.”

CAES - Lattice FPGA positioning
CAES said the partnership with Lattice addresses a segment where small FPGAs and microcontrollers are not enough, and large FPAGs are overkill. (Image: CAES)

Both Meyouhas and Bratton emphasized that the partnership would fill a gap in the market between large FPGAs and processors, and small FPGAs and microcontrollers. Bratton said, “The opportunity is very profound. The commercial world has put processing where it is needed [at the edge], and Lattice sees this opportunity in space.”

Meyouhas added, “We’ve had initial advanced exchanges with customers, and they really seem to like the ability to reconfigure and adapt in-orbit. With the majority of systems today looking to handle the majority of processing elements at the edge, here we can now put smaller FPGAs really at the edge [for space applications]. This means they can be placed right at the sensor, enabling real-time decisions to be made at the edge. It’s a decentralized approach, which means you can use over a dozen smaller FPGAs. This makes it an order of magnitude less expensive than having to use some of the bigger FPGAs.”

The latter point is also important, as Bratton pointed out, “You’re not running lots of cables to a central processor, which means you can reduce a lot of weight.”

CAES - Lattice - SWaP comparison
CAES illustrates size, weight and power (SWaP) performance benefits of the mid-range FPGAs for space applications. (Image: CAES)

Lattice Semiconductor’s chief strategy and marketing officer, Esam Elashmawi, said, “We are pleased to collaborate with CAES, a leading industry expert in space applications, to make it easier than ever for the space industry to achieve their design objectives with our low power, high system bandwidth, small form factor FPGAs that support satellite constellation networks. With our scalable Certus-NX and CertusPro-NX FPGA families and CAES’ deep industry expertise, we are accelerating the adoption of new architectures ideally suited for the evolving processing needs of today’s space applications.”

Bratton said that CAES has plenty of conversations with customers in the last 12 months, and they had given a ‘unanimous thumbs up’ for this technology, especially with the configurable building block. Meyouhas added, “Some customers have designed it in already, since they are looking for in-orbit configurability. They are using it for sensors and data translation – everything you need a mid-range FPGA for.”

CAES FPGA space applications
The applications in space that make FPGAs a useful distributed processing building block. (Image: CAES)

To complement this new addition to its space product portfolio and help expedite the design process, CAES said it would provide software programming and design support throughout the product development process. CAES also offers pre-engineered IP building blocks and development tools including Lattice Radiant design software, which enable large, complex designs to be implemented efficiently and adds support for popular logic synthesis tools. CAES is actively developing a port of its proven GRLIB development environment and a library of configurable, standardized soft IP design cores to further support customer needs as they integrate these FPGAs into their designs.

“Keeping pace with the rapidly evolving space environment requires access to the latest commercial technology,” said Andrew Foor, chief technologist, trusted space solutions, General Dynamics Mission Systems. “Lattice and CAES are addressing the space SwaP-C challenges with a power efficient FPGA based on FD-SOI. This collaboration is an example of the innovation needed to develop cutting edge solutions that meet demanding size, weight, power and cost constraints of next generation space missions.”

The Certus-NX-RT and CertusPro-NX-RT FPGAs are built on the Lattice Nexus platform delivering class-leading small form factor, system bandwidth and power efficiency – consuming up to four times less power in comparison with similar devices, according to company claims. The 28nm devices feature temperature-resistant tin-lead (SnPb) terminations using a radiation-tolerant, fully-depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI) manufacturing process. Based on its over four decades of space heritage and radiation hardened microelectronics expertise, CAES will qualify Lattice’s Certus-NX and CertusPro-NX FPGAs for radiation assurance and provide single-lot traceability and long-term supply.

The production release of Radiant tools is available starting in the first quarter of 2022 with Certus-NX-RT FPGA samples planned for early second quarter of 2022 and Certus-Pro-NX-RT FPGA samples planned for the third quarter of 2022.

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