NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft recently launched for Mars with Actel (Nasdaq: ACTL) radiation-tolerant RTAX-S FPGAs onboard. Actel’s one-million gate RTAX1000S-CQ352 device is integrated into the Meteorological Station (MET) instrument subsystem, which is used to acquire, process, and transmit temperature and pressure data to scientists and researchers back on Earth.
Once the Phoenix arrives on Mars, the MET instruments will be used constantly in surface operations, which are expected to last 150 days. These instruments are central to scientific exploration on Mars, providing the essential tools scientists need to learn more about the Martian climate and geology, as well as determine whether life has ever existed. The MET instruments operate on a combination of battery power and solar energy. Because sunlight in the Martian polar region is even weaker than at its equator, all systems and their components must feature extremely efficient power management.
The Actel radiation-tolerant RTAX-S FPGA family consists of devices ranging in density from 250,000 to 4-million equivalent system gates. The family, which includes the RTAX1000S used in the Phoenix mission’s flight, offers unique features desirable for space-flight applications, including single-event upset (SEU)-hardened flip-flops, usable error-corrected on-board memory and a large number of user I/O. These, in combination with the inherent benefits of Actel’s nonvolatile products, give designers the ability to minimize power consumption, reduce component count and save board space and weight while meeting their density, performance and radiation-resistance requirements.