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Space-grade chip

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Space-grade chip

Today's protagonist is "aero-grade chips". Although the official price of aviation-grade chips is not very expensive, for example, Xilinx’s aviation-grade chip XQR5VFX130-1CF1752V, the official price is about 30,000 to 40,000 US dollars .

Public channels are difficult to buy directly. However, it is said that some suppliers quote at 200,000
~600,000 US dollars, and even sold for 700,000 US dollars. Of course, since the sale of such chips is prohibited to certain countries, even if they sell them, they come from informal channels, and the risk factor is relatively high.


Why can it be sold so expensive?

Why are these aerospace-grade chips so expensive? Take the XQR5VFX130-1CF1752V as an example, the chip has a very strong radiation resistance, because aerospace-grade chips need to have special features, such as radiation resistance, in addition to high-speed computing performance, in order to operate in outer space.

If it is used on satellites without good radiation resistance, a large amount of space particle radiation in space will cause degradation of satellite circuit performance, or even loss of function, which is fatal to satellites.

According to statistics, from 1971 to 1986, a total of 1,589 failures occurred in the 39 geostationary satellites launched, 1,129 of which were related to space radiation, and 621 of them were caused by single event effects. These statistics show that the main failure of electronic devices in aerospace applications comes from space radiation, and failures caused by single event effects account for a large proportion of them

Moreover, among these faults, some faults are permanent and irreversible, such as the occurrence of single-event lock-up, which leads to a local short circuit inside the chip, which generates a large current and burns out the device. For such errors, some specific processes or device libraries can be applied to avoid them. Most of the errors in space are recoverable errors caused by the transition of the logic state of the semiconductor device, such as the error of the storage content of the memory caused by the single event flip.

Single-event upsets (Single-Event Upsets, SEU) refer to the jump of potential state caused by components affected by irradiation, "0" becomes "1", or "1" becomes "0", but generally not cause physical damage to the device. Because "single event flip" occurs frequently, it needs to be paid attention to in the chip design stage.

So is there any way to minimize the impact of single event flipping in the chip design stage? One is to choose a suitable process. In the aerospace field, the most advanced process is not the best. Generally speaking, the smaller the process, the worse the radiation resistance. Therefore, a process with a large line width is generally selected; the second is the reinforcement standard. The unit process library, the standard unit process library is the cornerstone of digital chips, including inverters, AND gates, registers, selectors, full adders and other basic units; the third is design redundancy. In the anti-radiation reinforcement method, Triple-mode redundancy (TMR) is the most representative fault-tolerant mechanism; the fourth is module independence, so that even if some parts are flipped, it will not affect the overall function of the chip.

(Radiation Resistance of XQR5VFX130-1CF1752V)

In addition to high performance and radiation resistance, aerospace-grade chips also have special requirements for chip heat dissipation, reliability and high temperature resistance. When the circuit is used on the ground, the heat release mainly depends on heat radiation and heat conduction, but in the vacuum state of space, the thermal conductivity is very low, how to release the heat generated when the chip is working as soon as possible is an engineer must consider The problem.​

(Package, size, and temperature range of XQR5VFX130-1CF1752V)

​How did the aerospace-grade chip come about?
Generally speaking, chips are divided into four grades according to reliability: consumer grade, industrial grade, military grade, and aerospace grade. Most of the chips we see are consumer-grade, and if they are broken, just replace them; industrial-grade chips have certain requirements for temperature range and reliability, and car-grade products are sometimes classified as industrial-grade, of course. The requirements of the automotive grade are higher than those of the general industrial grade; the requirements of the military and aerospace grades are even higher.

In order to meet the requirements of aerospace components to meet the requirements of aerospace engineering, both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have developed a relatively mature component standard system. Among them, NASA not only adopts a large number of US military standards (MIL) standards, but also according to the special needs of aerospace components, NASA and its subordinate space flight centers have also compiled various component standards (specifications) and guiding technical documents for design. and purchasing personnel. For example, the "NASA Component Selection List (NPSL)" and "EEE Component Selection, Screening, Identification, and Derating Guidelines" formulated by the NASA Component Management Office. In addition to technical standards, NASA has also formulated a large number of management standards and documents, and strictly stipulated approval procedures to ensure the implementation of technical standards. These standards and documents not only guide NASA design and procurement personnel to correctly select, purchase and use components, but also are widely adopted by the international aerospace sector.

ESA established the Space Component Coordination Group (SCCG) to coordinate the selection of components among countries, and formulated various component specifications marked by ESA/SCC. The "Electrical, Electronic and Electromechanical (EEE) Components for Space Product Assurance" issued by it is the second-level standard for space product assurance, but for the assurance of ESA aerospace components, it is the "top" standard for its control and management.

In the past, semiconductor manufacturers had special production lines to produce aerospace-grade chips. However, due to the special research and use cycle of aerospace products, the update of component products was relatively slow. In recent decades, semiconductor technology has developed rapidly. , The consumer market is updating very fast, and a new generation of products is updated almost every year. This makes the military and aerospace-grade chip market no longer a favorite in the eyes of semiconductor manufacturers, but has become a tasteless product. Therefore, many semiconductor manufacturers are reluctant to spend money to support such a separate product line. Some semiconductor manufacturers have begun to withdraw from the military and aerospace markets and concentrate on the consumer and industrial markets, such as the original Freescale.

Most aerospace-grade chips are selected from industrial chips, and the chips that meet the requirements after multiple tests can be said to be one in ten thousand, so the cost is relatively high

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