ESA to Use Self-Designed LEON Chip in Upcoming Space Missions

Author: Usman Zafar Paracha
Published: January 07, 2013 at 11:23 am
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European Space Agency (ESA) will use the advanced 32-bit microprocessor in the coming Alphasat telecom satellite, the Proba-V microsatellite, the Earth-monitoring Sentinel family and the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

The new LEON2-FT chip, commercially known as the AT697, will be used to operate the computers in the spacecraft. "FT” in the name of the chip refers to the “fault tolerance”, showing the ability of the chip to resist the random memory ‘bit flips’ resulting from space radiation. This microprocessor has been designed by ESA and developed by Atmel in France. It was used for the first time in 2008 within the prototype computer payload called the ERNObox in the ESA’s Space Mission to collect data on the internal Station environment.

“ESA first became motivated to get involved with microprocessor development back in the 1990s as they became more central to the performance of space missions.” Roland Weigand of ESA’s microelectronics section, said in a statement.

Alphasat telecom satellite already utilizes an older ERC32 chip in its flight computer, but will also use the capacity of LEON2-FT to work on the space environment-monitoring experiment aboard the satellite.

The Proba-V microsatellite this year will get the AT697 processor in the main flight computer. This helps in better surveying of vegetation growth on a daily basis.

ESA’s Sentinels, already having ERC32 chip in flight computers, will utilize the power of LEON2-FT chips in their GPS receivers and startrackers for navigation. Among the first of them will be launched by the agency in the coming year.

LEON2-FT chip will help to control avionics in the ESA’s 2014 IXV Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle for testing atmospheric re-entry and the same design will be used in both the 2015’s BepiColombo mission to Mercury and 2018’s Gaia star-mapper.

On the other hand, Europe wants to be more independent about parts for its space agency, and that's why the LEON design has also been used by the space industry in Europe for company-owned ‘system-on-chip’ microprocessors optimized for dedicated tasks. As for example, Astrium, a leading European space company, is using the design to develop a space-based GPS/Galileo satnav receiver.

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Article Author: Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha has been blogging in science and technology for more than 6 years. He is CEO of SayPeople.com. Email: uzparacha@yahoo.com Twitter: @jeepakistan

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