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TriQuint GaAs RF devices support NASA missions

Gallium arsenide MMICs have been used in the space pioneer's Mars campaign
TriQuint Semiconductor reflected on its role in helping land NASA's Curiosity rover safely on Mars as program managers say the mission is reaching an important turning point.

The firm has supported NASA programs for decades, including devices aboard the Sky Crane landing radar of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and its Curiosity rover.

The MSL captured worldwide attention on August 6th, 2012 when its Sky Crane travelled the now-famous 'seven minutes of terror' to lower Curiosity safely to the Martian surface. NASA accomplished its feat with a pre-programmed landing sequence that was vital since the communication time delay between the planets meant Curiosity's final descent could not be piloted from Earth.

TriQuint delivered four Sky Crane landing radar components that helped make a safe touchdown possible. The Sky Crane's success culminated four year's work by TriQuint engineers who consulted with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Soon after landing, Curiosity confirmed that the Gale Crater site had once been capable of supporting microbial life. Since then it has found an ancient stream bed and allowed scientists to determine that the Martian radiation environment is similar to what astronauts experience aboard the International Space Station.

The rover collected rock samples containing sulphur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon, leading scientists to believe Mars could have supported microbial life billions of years ago. The MSL is now nearly half way through its planned 23 month mission.

TGL4203-SM DC - 30 GHz wideband analogue attenuator

TriQuint's GaAs pHEMT products in the MSL's landing radar included the TGL4203-SM attenuator, TGA4517 Ka-band RF power amplifier and the TGC1430G frequency tripler. These are all fabricated using TriQuint's 0.25µm technology.

TGA4517 Ka band power amplifier

TGC1430G frequency tripler

Also used was the TGA4508, a Ka-band low-noise amplifier that utilised a 0.15 µm TriQuint process.

TGA4508, a Ka-band low-noise amplifier

Before assembly into the MSL, TriQuint devices endured an arduous space qualification screening process which far exceeds requirements of typical commercial or defence programs.

"The Mars Science Laboratory is not the first NASA mission for our technology, but it's surely one of the most exciting for the design team and all of us at TriQuint," says James Klein, Vice President and General Manager of Infrastructure and Defense Products. "When the customer is NASA, the location is Mars, and the end user is a precedent-setting, history-making spacecraft, the word 'exciting' takes on a whole new meaning."

TriQuint's portfolio of space-qualified products demonstrates a continuing commitment to reaching further, turning advanced research and development into high performance products that add real value for customers.

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