The funding is a third boost from
Work on the project began in 2010 with a three-year,
If the "environmentally aware" computer LaMeres and his students are developing performs during on-the-ground vacuum-chamber and thermal tests in 2015, LaMeres said the MSU team would be invited to submit an application for inclusion on one of the space agency's CubeSat launch vehicles, which put small research satellites into orbit.
"It's a great thing for us because we've matured the architecture of this computer all the way from drawing it up on a whiteboard to where it's pretty close to being flight-ready," LaMeres said. "If we can show that it is ready, then we can apply for a ride on a (NASA) rocket."
Once aboard a satellite, the real test of the technology would finally begin.
"Out there in the extreme radiation environment of space, things can turn hostile in a hurry," LaMeres said. "The computers we use on the surface of the earth are protected from radiation by our atmosphere and magnetosphere. But out in space, radiation can wreak havoc."
While most of the radioactive particles streaming through space are not likely to damage a computer, there are certain widely dispersed particles that pack particularly high energy and can pass right through a space vehicle and traverse an entire computer chip, LaMeres said. "At that point ones can become zeros and zeros can be switched to ones," he added.
But these radiation hits, called single-event effects, don't come as a continual bombardment, and a satellite might only encounter one or two of these during a typical pass through orbit. The problem is that no amount of shielding can stop these high-energy particles, so a computer crash using modern parts is imminent - the question is how to handle it.
Built exclusively from commercial, off-the-shelf materials, the system LaMeres and his students have designed can overcome single-event effects through redundancy. Using an array of nine reprogrammable processors and radiation-sensing devices, the system can detect when a powerful stray particle of energy strikes and compromises one of the computer processors. In MSU's approach, three of the processors work in parallel and compare their results to ensure a failure hasn't occurred. The other six processors are held in reserve. In the event of a radiation strike, the damaged processor gets replaced with a spare and normal operation continues.
Rather than rebooting the entire system, once the computer senses a radiation strike, a malfunctioning processor is automatically reprogrammed to its original state and readied to provide back up in the case of another failure, LaMeres said.
Computationally faster and far cheaper to build, LaMeres said their system overcomes some of the shortcomings commonplace with the existing shielded custom-built processors typically used during space flights. Because the computer system is environmentally aware and can repair itself, astronauts and satellites would not have to stop other tasks to fix computer malfunctions.
For Weber and Hogan, the doctoral students working the past three years with LaMeres, the progression of the
"It's definitely been exciting, and we're looking forward to the (sub-orbital) sounding rocket launch this coming spring," Hogan said. The latest
The group's research is being done in collaboration with
"There is a vibrant small spacecraft community within America's universities, and with this initiative
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