Blog

Rad-hard Miniaturized System-in-Package (SIP) for Space Flight

Posted May 14th by Ross Bannatyne

 

SIP Blog

 

Because many new satellite designs are getting physically smaller, it is becoming more difficult for engineers to squeeze all of the required integrated circuit functionality into increasingly challenging form factors.

 

This challenge has led VORAGO Technologies to develop a miniaturized system-in-package (SIP) device that incorporates a microcontroller, analog-to-digital converter, FRAM memory and a handful of capacitors and resistors. These rad-hard die components are mounted on a ceramic substrate package that reduces the implementation size of the circuit by a factor of five.

 

We’re currently in the process of qualifying the SIP device for spaceflight, following a MIL-PRF-38534 class K qualification plan. As you may suspect, reaching this level of qualification is not trivial and we’ve had challenges along the way. A custom ceramic package was developed that required new custom sockets for test and burn-in and the substrate interconnections within the package required us to modify our approach to ATE (Automatic Test Equipment) testing. We’ve developed boards that have burned-in components for 1000 hours at 125°C and we’ve had to develop equipment to braze lids onto the packages to ensure hermeticity.

 

We have also designed an evaluation kit and software board support package to allow engineers to design the SIP product easily and get it up and running quickly in their space electronics systems design.

 

Our objective for the SIP is to complete the qualification before 2019 as we have flight opportunities lined-up. The bigger picture for VORAGO is to put in place our SIP development and qualification methodology, as well as creating a proven supply chain that we can utilize for future SIP products.  So far, we’re on track and expect to be able to help our customers address their miniaturization problems without headaches.

 

No Man’s Land to The Promised Land

 

We’re getting our bags packed shortly to go to the Small Satellite Symposium in San Jose. There are more and more conferences and trade shows devoted to small satellites each year and the numbers of people attending are growing significantly. One change that I see is that the number of attendees from established large traditional aerospace suppliers is increasing to the point that it has probably surpassed the number of folks attending from the ‘original’ CubeSat community that rose out of universities like Cal Poly and Stanford and blossomed into the ‘New Space’ movement.

 

Forgive me for such a sweeping generalization, but typically the New Space movement favored using commercial off-the-shelf electronics components and getting SmallSats into orbit quickly and cheaply. Tolerating risk was an accepted part of the culture and it was offset by lower costs and accelerated learning cycles. Understandably, the traditional aerospace suppliers took a more conservative approach.

At one side of the spectrum was cheap commercial off-the-shelf components and at the other side was very expensive radiation-hardened components that afforded little risk. In the middle was No Mans Land. There was a void in the market where there should have been plentiful rad-hard robust components that are affordable with limited resources. It is this void that VORAGO set out to fill.We think of it as The Promised Land –a place to find equilibrium in optimizing mission assurance on a challenging CubeSat budget.

We’ve seen convergence to The Promised Land from both the traditional aerospace folks and the new space folks. Now that the bottleneck in CubeSat growth is catching a ride to space, there is a stronger desire to incrementally improve reliability by using more robust components. There is also a desire by the traditional aerospace suppliers to use more reasonably components that can be ordered online and be operating on their bench 24 hours later.That’s what VORAGO set out to do and its working.

Hope to speak to y’all at some of these upcoming Small Satellite conferences and we can have a nice chat about the evolution from No Man’s Land to The Promised Land.

 

Arm Cortex-M0 Microcontroller Flight Heritage

 

Posted December 18th by Ross Bannatyne

The beginning of December was an exciting month for VORAGO Technologies. Within a period of three days we watched two of our Arm Cortex-M0 microcontrollers launched into space.

On December 3rd, our MCU was launched into Sun-Synchronous orbit along with eight other HARDSIL-enabled memory ICs that are all being used together in a NASA / Air Force science experiment on the STPSat-5 payload.

Two days later, on December 5th, we saw another VORAGO Arm Cortex-M0 device used on the NASA TechEdSat-8 CubeSat launched into low earth orbit. The first Cortex-M0 microcontroller in space was a VORAGO chip that is still operating on a science experiment on the International Space Station (since February 2016). There are now several VORAGO Arm Cortex-M0 microcontrollers orbiting the earth in commercial, government, NASA and university research satellites.

The success of the rad-hard Cortex-M0 microcontroller can be attributed to the desire to improve mission assurance by using chips that were designed to operate in the space radiation environment. Commercial semiconductors can be upset or destroyed by the radiation that exists in space and those failures are irreparable and expensive. Although the VORAGO Arm Cortex-M0 MCU has a higher price than a commercial Cortex-M0 IC, it is still a very small proportion of the cost of creating and launching a spacecraft. In terms of improving system reliability, it is money well spent.

We’re looking forward for further expanding our fight heritage in 2019 - the next scheduled launch is at the beginning of March and it will be followed by several more during the course of the year.