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NASA Awards $245k to create SiC chips for Venus Rover

Ozark Integrated Circuits to create circuits that can operate at 500degC on planet Venus

NASA has awarded two grants totaling nearly $245,000 to Ozark Integrated Circuits, a US technology firm affiliated with the University of Arkansas.

The company, which designs semiconductors at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, will use the grants to design complex integrated circuits that can operate on the surface of Venus, where the temperature can reach 500degC.

The two SiC-based circuits could be incorporated into the overall design of the space agency's proposed Venus Landsailing Rover, said Matt Francis, Ozark IC's president and chief executive officer.

The company will collaborate with electrical engineering students at the U of A on one of the projects. It will also use the packaging expertise and facilities of the university's High Density Electronics Research Centre at the research park. 

"SiC is a semiconductor that is ideally suited for the extreme environments found on Venus," Francis said. "We have many years of experience working with this semiconductor fabrication process, developing models and process-design kits specifically for this process."

"We will demonstrate the feasibility of creating these needed integrated circuits," Francis said. "We will also generate a commercial feasibility analysis based on projections of the manufacturing costs for each of these integrated circuits."

In the first NASA award, Ozark IC will address NASA's Earth and planetary science missions through the development of a reliable ultraviolet imager that is suited for planetary composition experiments and Earth observation in space. The imager will allow monitoring of ultraviolet signals in order to understand the environment on Venus as well as for ultraviolet astronomy by observing and analysing other planets and stars.

In the second award, the company will address NASA's need for a microcontroller to provide real-time programmability for the proposed mobile lander for Venus. Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering at the U of A, will supervise student research on this project.

The Phase I grants came through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which allows federal agencies to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening small businesses that meet federal research and development needs. The program also is intended to increase the commercial application of federally supported research results.

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