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I was looking for space grade rad-hard microcontroller. It is widely mentioned that microcontrollers are limited in their usage in space domain. The reason being that due to high cosmic radiation there could be adverse effects on the flash, thereby corrupting the code stored. So, I decided to look at FPGAs as they are much more stable (vis-a-vis radiation effects). Is it possible that I select an FPGA and program a softcore that can fulfill my microcontroller needs ?

My present board has the LPC4337 dual cortex MCU. Is there any similar chips that are rad-hard ? Most of the rad-grad MCUs are from Atmel,ST and a couple of vendors (intersil,surprisingly). But not many are ARM compatible.

Atmel has a SPARC core, which again causes software migration issues. Are ARM cortexes used in space ? I would appreciate any pointers in this direction please.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The FPGA won't help you: you'll need to store the programming bitstream for it somewhere, which is nearly always internal or external Flash. Do they still make diode-fuse PROM? That would be immune to radiation corruption. \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Jul 19 '15 at 11:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not entirely true: there is radiation damage, which is long term, permanent, and accumulates. Assuming the same geometry, a fuse PROM would be just as suseptible to such damage as any other non-memory circuit. The other damage is (single-bit) upsets, which are random, and don't accumulate past a reset or re-write. These two types of radiation effects require very different measures. \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen Jul 19 '15 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ So what are my options in this scenario ? \$\endgroup\$ – Board-Man Jul 19 '15 at 11:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ If your goal is a nanosat in LEO the choices may be much wider than those acceptable for a huge bus or deep space mission. There can be a big difference between superficially similar chips- it's possible to even do rad qualification yourself (send the chips off to get a dose). Btw, anything space is generally also ITAR so them that know won't be saying much. \$\endgroup\$ – Spehro Pefhany Jul 19 '15 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Put it in a lead box. :) \$\endgroup\$ – rdtsc Jul 19 '15 at 19:02
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Space-grade microprocessors started with the RCA 1802 (1976), which used Silicon on Sapphire semiconductor process technology, and gave it a degree of resistance to radiation and electrostatic discharge (ESD). It was used in multiple spacecraft, including the Galileo probe which had multiple 1802 microprocessors on board. It is still being sold. The 1802A is the hardened version. The space shuttle used both an 1802 and 8086 (later upgraded to 80386), plus core memory which was impervious to radiation.

This page gives a run-down of microcontrollers and microprocessors used since then, last updated in 2012. The latest listing is for the New Horizons spacecraft which just passed Pluto. It uses a Mongoose-V processor made by Synova, which is a radiation hardened and enhanced version of a MIPS R3000. These chips costs between $20K and $40K apiece according to the listing cited above.

Surprisingly, there are a number of 80x86 processors, and also a 80C85 used by the Sojourner on Mars. The Hubble runs on a 80486. I assume these are all special versions that are radiation hardened, though I wouldn't know where to buy them today.

Other recent radiation-hardened microprocessors are the RAD6000 and the RAD750, both based on the POWER PC architecture. Both very expensive.

I didn't see any ARM-based microprocessors in the list.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent link! I was surprised to not see any MC68k CPUs. For commercial, non-NASA satellites, they are common. \$\endgroup\$ – winny Jul 22 '16 at 7:21
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Your answer is in http://www.voragotech.com . Vorago offers a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 MCU manufactured with HARDSIL® technology. But there is another option, an interesting one: AtmegaS128 Here is a link for it: http://www.atmel.com/devices/ATmegaS128.aspx

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