BAE works on radiation-hardening space technology
- By Kris Osborn
- May 23, 2017
BAE Systems is working to improve the technical reliability of space and satellite operations through emerging radiation-hardening applications.
Satellite sensor and guidance technology are often more challenged and susceptible to radiation interference in a space environment given the state of current electronics, said Jim LaRosa, program director for space computers at BAE Systems.
“A charged particle can impact a device and impose significant damage; it can essentially deposit charge into a circuit causing electronic noise and signal spikes within the device. This can result in erroneous data or bad commands being passed. Depending upon the situation, the result may be as limited as modifying the accuracy of a sensor input or something that requires a computer reset or even permanent damage” LaRosa said.
BAE Systems, which supports a wide array of U.S. military satellites, offers a radiation tolerance technology engineered to improve reliability. Missions involving this technology include ensuring secure military communications, imaging for commercial communications and various kinds of environmental monitoring.
For example, BAE Systems computers have controlled all three generations of the Mars Rovers and Mars observation satellites, LaRosa said. Operators control the rovers remotely from Earth using visual sensors connected to a control station.
NASA uses space borne relay stations to transmit commands to the rover and receive data from them using an RF signal. However, because of the distance between planets, a command from Earth takes about 20 minutes to actually reach the rover.
Charged radiation particles from the sun are much more damaging to electronics in space; the atmosphere protects Earth from particles to a much greater extent.
“You need hardened electronics,” LaRosa added. “The idea is to make the circuitry immune to particles coming through,” he added.
LaRosa said that more computing power is needed in space because sensor technology is so advanced that it is generating a high volume of data.
“You need more computer power as your applications get more complex. We have a new 45 nanometer technology which enables a dramatic increase in on-board processing capacity for satellite payloads,” he said.
LaRosa also explained how more data can be collected from these sensors than can practically be sent back to Earth.
“It has become important to process the data directly on the satellite to retain only the important information for transmission,” he said.
Pentagon leaders in the space and intelligence community are acutely aware of the rapid increase in space computing, processing power, data and the need to increase reliability and further secure systems.
Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or GEOINT, recently told Congress that the explosion of space data “has driven the GEOINT discipline beyond the limits of human interpretation and explanation. By combining all the data now available to us with the use of algorithms, automated processing, machine-to-machine learning and artificial intelligence, we believe we can automate as much as 75 percent or more of the rote tasks we perform today.”
Cardillo said that this will require significant investments in IT architecture and research and development, according to a Pentagon report.
Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.