Radiation-tolerant FPGAs rely on Flash-based cells - Embedded.com

Radiation-tolerant FPGAs rely on Flash-based cells


Microsemi seems to be on a roll at the moment. According to the 2014 Semiconductors in Military and Aerospace Electronics report from Databeans: “With over 19 percent share of the military and aerospace semiconductor market, Microsemi remains the leading supplier to this industry.” In fact, Microsemi's revenue has more than doubled over the last five years, and a lot of this is due to its FPGA offerings.

In addition to its regular FPGAs, which are targeted at terrestrial applications, Microsemi also has a suite of radiation-tolerant FPGAs that are intended for aerospace deployment.

More and more satellites are being deployed all the time. In addition to communications satellites, there are also a large number of devices that are used to capture scientific data. The problem here is that scientists have an insatiable appetite for data, and new high-resolution sensors are more than happy to supply this data, but the sensor resolutions and the resulting data are increasing faster than the downlink bandwidth can support.

As a result, today's satellites are required to perform ever-increasing amounts of on-board signal processing, which allows them to transmit smaller amounts of processed information as opposed to humungous amounts of raw data. In order to satisfy these requirements, Microsemi has introduced its new RTG4 family of high-speed signal processing radiation-tolerant FPGAs.

Unlike earlier anti-fuse-based RTAX FPGAs, which were one-time programmable (OTP), the new reprogrammable RTG4 devices boast flash-based configuration cells that are said to offer complete immunity to radiation-induced configuration upsets in the harshest radiation environments.

The RTG4 FPGA family offers up to 150k logic elements (LEs) — each containing a 4-input lookup table, a multiplexer, and a register — and up to 300MHz system performance. The programmable fabric is augmented by up to 5Mbits of SRAM, up to 426 18×18 multiplier-accumulator blocks, and up to 75Gbps high-speed serial interconnect bandwidth.

In addition to RTG4 FPGAs being immune to configuration upsets, total ionizing dose (TID) and single event effects are hardened by design. In the case of the logic elements, for example, the registers are TMR (triple modular redundant) with an asynchronous feedback path that automatically corrects any register affected by a single event upset (SEU). Furthermore, a single event transient (SET) filter mitigates glitches in the combinatorial logic caused by radiation effects.

Microsemi could be onto a winner here. Around 100 remote sensing satellites > 50kg are launched each year (this number is growing), with each carrying up to 8 payload instruments, and each instrument requiring up to 12 FPGAs. As the folks at Microsemi say:

“Typical uses for RTG4 include remote sensing space payloads, such as radar, imaging and spectrometry in civilian, scientific and commercial applications. These applications span across weather forecasting and climate research, land use, astronomy and astrophysics, planetary exploration, and earth sciences. Other applications include mobile satellite services (MSS) communication satellites, as well as high altitude aviation, medical electronics and civilian nuclear power plant control. Such applications have historically used expensive radiation-hardened ASICs, which force development programs to incur substantial cost and schedule risk. RTG4 allows programs to access the ease-of-use and flexibility of FPGAs without sacrificing reliability or performance.”  

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