News Article

US Team Wins NASA Funding For SiGe Circuits

NASA has awarded $2.75 million to a US university-industry team to continue the development of radiation-hard circuits that could be used to extend the duration of future space missions.

A US team has won a $2.75 million one-year contract from NASA to continue the development of SiGe circuits that could extend the duration or mission range of future space exploration projects.

The partnership - which includes Boeing, BAE Systems, IBM, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lynguent, the Universities of Auburn, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Maryland, Arkansas, and Geogia Institute of Technology "“ will use the funding to improve the performance of mixed signal SiGe circuits that could feature in both robotic and human space missions.

The circuits, which contain components such as operational amplifiers, multiplexers, and analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue converters, are being built with SiGe because this material has an intrinsic tolerance to space radiation.

SiGe can also operate at low temperatures, which avoids the need for warm boxes that would otherwise house the circuits, adding to the launch weight and reducing overall reliability.

The technology could be used in lunar landers, hoppers, rovers and gathering stations.

During the first phase of the project that started in 2005 the team characterized the SiGe devices over the required temperature range, fabricated and tested simple circuits, implemented and tested circuit packaging, and built preliminary models to assess the circuit's reliability and its response to radiation.

The current award will enable the team to continue the SiGe circuit development, which will include qualifying the performance of the devices at very low temperatures under incident radiation.

The technology could feature in the upcoming NASA robotic lunar exploration program (RLEP) initiative that is starting with the lunar reconnaissance orbiter launch in October 2008.

"Future spacecraft returning to the moon will determine if ice exists in a form usable by humans in the permanently dark craters of the south polar region," said Leora Peltz, a member of the Boeing team.

"SiGe technology could enable robots and humans to remain longer and accomplish more, either searching for existing resources or performing scientific missions on the lunar surface," she added.

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