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[Blog] Innovative Technologies, Tools, and Methodologies for Space Applications

[Blog] Innovative Technologies, Tools, and Methodologies for Space Applications
Posted 05/23/2024 by Jim Tavacoli, Senior Director of Aerospace & Defense

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Space exploration has always captivated humanity’s imagination and our fascination continues to drive technological advancements in the industry. Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed groundbreaking advancements in the space industry – so much so that the global space technology economy is expected to reach $1.8 trillion by 2035.

As the sector grows, there is rising demand for advanced microcircuits to build the next generation of space systems – like satellites – to be SWaP-C optimized. An acronym for size, weight, power, and cost, SWaP-C is a critical consideration in aerospace design, aiming to optimize efficiency of systems by minimizing their physical size, weight, power consumption, and overall cost, which is particularly crucial in space missions where resources are limited, and efficiency is paramount. Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are an ideal solution to delivering SWaP-C goals with their ability to future proof any interface, any algorithm in orbit and enable reprogrammability and design customization during the mission.

Standing on the cusp of a new era in space exploration, the Lattice team hosted a LinkedIn Live panel with Synopsys and Space R3 to discuss the latest trends, services, and mission-critical platform requirements that are shaping the industry, and the implications around the need for FPGAs, design tools, and test and verification methodologies.

Evolving Design and Test Methodologies in Next Gen Space Applications

The space industry is rapidly evolving as organizations aim to increase mission autonomy, integrate advanced AI, improve data communication, and implement self-correcting architectures. As a result, space systems are becoming increasingly complex – emphasizing the need for a more holistic development approach to ensure components are efficient and reliable.

Enabling the future of space systems, today’s space-grade FPGAs take a holistic approach to meeting the reliability, availability, and safety requirements of space systems. Advancements in FPGA architecture and design, coupled with sophisticated tools and IP for fault injection and redundancy and a robust campaign to qualify, screen, and conduct radiation tests, have resulted in successful space programs. The mitigation strategy depends on the mission duration, environmental factors, and the robustness of the FPGA. To create them, developers must complete a “first look” to assess the system’s needs and how its parts work together. This, in turn, helps developers to figure out the right testing and development strategy.

Additionally, improved testing is needed to shield and protect against various forms of radiation, including solar radiation and cosmic rays. Radiation can pose significant risks to space technology, and FPGAs in particular. Because of this, enhanced testing measures are critical to mitigating radiation and supporting the design and operation of space tech.

However, radiation testing is a complex field. While the goal is to characterize a device’s susceptibility to radiation, it also requires in-depth knowledge for developing embedded test structures and test systems or equipment. Embedded test structures are usually basic elements such as library components in the FPGA or its IP cores, or the inclusion of user applications in flight for missions. Today’s radiation test campaigns could include a running CPU with application software, a signal processing algorithm or object detection inferencing inside the FPGA while under radiation. These structures mimic in-flight applications, applying stimuli and monitoring response, particularly to radiation sources, high temperatures, and varying voltage biases.

As testing designs, structures, and systems grow more complex, manually implementing these strategies becomes impractical. To address this, Lattice recently announced its partnership with Synopsys to integrate the Synopsys Synplify® FPGA synthesis tool with Triple Modular Redundancy (TMR) with the latest release of the Lattice Radiant® FPGA design software. This integration provides an advanced design automation flow solution that simplifies the development of FPGA-based space applications with robust functional safety protections and high reliability, enabling designers to further explore the robustness of our low power, small form factor FPGAs.

Developing Security Measures in Next Gen Space Applications

We’ve explored the reliability and the importance of robustness in space systems. Now, let’s delve into the solutions and strategies in place to enhance the security measures within next generation space systems. As satellite networks expand in scale, an immense volume of user data will be transported through these networks. Consequently, ensuring reliability and security becomes paramount.

Within security measures, confidentiality, integrity, and availability are of the utmost concern. Confidentiality refers to the potential of knowledge being leaked, integrity refers to the operation or function doing what it’s supposed to do, when it’s supposed to do it, and availability means the system is always accessible.

To assure these levels of security, developers are implementing test systems that mimic or emulate any peripheral structures that would go around an FPGA, allowing them to test environments and make sure the device is operating as it would in any real application. This produces reliable and accurate data that developers can utilize to improve, enhance, and protect FPGAs and related components. Radiation, trust, and security are all encompassed in these test systems.

Additionally, establishing protocols for functional safety and error mitigation compliant with industry standards – like DO-254, IEC 61508, and ISO 26262 – is integral to developing and validating reliable and safe designs. Integrating Lattice Radiant with Synopsys Synplify TMR automates alignment with required industry standards, specifically addressing the mitigation of soft errors such as Single Event Upsets. Automating this process is essential for developing complex designs that meet compliance requirements for safety-critical applications. It will also help designers accelerate the development of low power, performance-optimized FPGA-based designs.

Factors Influencing SER Diverge with Scaling Rends

FPGAs and Next Gen Space Applications

FPGAs play a pivotal role in propelling innovation within the space industry. By enabling system developers to meet mission-critical demands and enhance application development, FPGAs are poised to shape the next generation of space systems. As organizations seek to amplify space system development and testing, these versatile components remain essential.

To learn more about how Lattice FPGAs and solution stacks can help advance the future of commercial space systems, reach out to our team today or watch the recent LinkedIn Live panel here.