NASA is spending $50 million to develop a next-generation processor for space exploration | by PCMag | PC Magazine | August 2022


The new chip will offer 100 times the computing capacity compared to the spaceflight computers that NASA relies on today.

By Matthew Humphries

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory selected Microchip Technology Inc. to design and develop a new High Performance Computing for Spaceflight (HPSC) processor for future lunar and planetary exploration missions.

Microchip is awarded a firm price contract of $50 million for “architect, design and delivery” the new processor over the next three years. The goal is to produce a chip with 100 times the computational capability of the spaceflight computers NASA relies on today, while offering big improvements in reliability and fault tolerance.

As Wesley Powell, NASA’s lead technologist for advanced avionics, points out, “Our current spaceflight computers were developed nearly 30 years ago.” Existing technology was also designed to “address the most computationally intensive part of a mission”, which led to inefficiencies due to over-design. For example, power efficiency can be greatly improved by using a modern processor design that can disable certain features when not in use.

“We are delighted that NASA has selected Microchip as a partner to develop the next-generation space-qualified compute processor platform.” said Babak Samimi, vice president of Microchip’s Communications business unit. “We are making a joint investment with NASA in a new reliable and transformative computing platform. It will provide full Ethernet networking, advanced artificial intelligence/machine learning processing, and connectivity support while delivering unprecedented performance gain, fault tolerance, and security architecture with low energy consumption.

NASA believes the new processor will have a wide range of uses, including Earth science operations, Mars exploration and commercial systems on Earth that require “critical edge computing”. industrial automation, edge computing, urgent Ethernet data transmission and artificial intelligence are all cited as benefiting from the chip developed by Microchip.


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