Under its Horizon 2020 programme, the European Commission is playing an increasingly important role in space research and development, pushing the envelope to achieve the limits of what is possible.
Horizon 2020 is Europe’s largest ever R&T/D programme for development projects between 2014 and 2020, with a significant number covering space technology and applications.
Computers are used in a variety of space-borne equipment for numerous on-board applications and processors are at the core of these equipment.
However, currently existing space-grade processors are not suitable to be used in the next generation spacecraft computing platforms because they do not provide sufficient performance, power-efficiency and are too expensive. On the other hand, ARM processors are known to be extremely power-efficient and low-cost while providing high performance and are at the core of the vast majority of terrestrial application markets such as smart phones, tablet computers, and other embedded devices. Future space processors and current terrestrial are now converging, as for safety and mission critical market segments there is a growing concern about radiation effects even at the ground level. Therefore TCLS ARM FOR SPACE targets the following high level objectives: – Bring one of the mainstream CPUs with the largest software eco-system into the space sector (ARM Cortex R5) – Establish an innovative radiation hardened methodology for this CPU making it attractive to both space and terrestrial applications
- Study the portability to European latest and highest performance hardened semiconductor technology (STM65nm) This is achieved by the collaboration of the most experienced companies in this field, namely Airbus DS (G, F) for specific heritage on high reliable and radiation hardened systems, ARM (UK) providing its excellence in processor core IPs and know-how in this field of developments and Atmel (F) and Dolphin (F) contributing with their space and STM65nm technology experience and knowledge respectively. This activity will allow the incorporation of research groups (ARM Research Group) and SMEs (Dolphin) into the space landscape. The exploitation and the dissemination of the results will be guaranteed by the wide sales and marketing network provided by Airbus DS and Atmel for the space and ARM for the terrestrial sectors.
- Bringing one of the mainstreams evolving CPUs with the largest software eco-system into the space sector and establish the Triple Core Lockstep concept for ARM Cortex R5 processor core
- Assess the radiation-hardening by design (RHBD) of a single processor core and the radiation-hardening by architecture (RHBA) of a Triple Core Lockstep (TCLS) core in terms of performance, power and radiation tolerance; take into account the specific challenge of increased susceptibility to failures with shrinking technologies, both for space and non-space sector
- Breadboarding of both approaches in a representative System-on-Chip on a FPGA platform
- Portability analysis in a latest European radiation hardened semiconductor technology (STM 65nm)
Overview of expected impacts
The European Space industry has an increased need with regards to processing capability for payload and platform applications. It can be done through the availability of a new high performance processing core. It is important for this processing core not restricted to export control regulation and so to be a European technology.
In this context, this proposal is focused on the definition, development and evaluation of innovations around the ARM technology, such as the TCLS radiation hardening technique which will be evaluated. The ARM technology is currently the more promising European technology to be used by the European community. Its use can be extended to more global market needs in space, as it has already been extended for consumer electronics market where ARM is the leading actor.
If this European technology is available for the Space Industry with the assessment of the hardening techniques that are appropriate to be applied to this technology, it could bring confidence in its implementation in space system and it could bring improvements to the performances of all of the existing space electronics equipment, both at hardware and software level.