I'm responsible for maintaining a satellite that has an ADC that is failing in an unusual manner. Essentially what is happening is that it toggles back and forth between two values, if the raw voltage is in a certain range. I'm working on getting the raw counts, but the processed data looks something like this:

Sample image

Note that the blue line means something else (Essentially, the software is trying to make the red line match the blue line).

Normally, the steps are quire small, as can be seen by the left few small bumps on the larger square wave. However, the steps are quite large once you drop below the value. While I don't have the raw count data, I do know it is reflected in the counts.

What I'm trying to understand is how this ADC is failing.

I'm guessing the following, but I would like to get some analysis of this idea:

  1. In the linear region, for each change in analog voltage in delta v, there is a change in counts of one.
  2. In the non-linear region, for a change in analog voltage in delta v, the jump in counts is much larger.
  3. It is possible that the delta v in 2 is larger than 1, but it is much smaller than would be normally predicted.

Remember, this is a satellite, so I can't bring it back to the lab for testing. Any thoughts?

EDIT: Here is the raw counts for such an episode (sampled at a lower frequency). Also, the ADC is about 15-20 years old space rated, I don't have a part number on hand, but I'll see if I can get it. It was probably around in 1993, and might be FPGA based. The counts are as far as I can tell 374- 421 as the gap (Might be off by a few counts). Binary is as follows

374 101110110
421 110100101

enter image description here

Part of the reason that I think it might be the ADC is that there are multiple sensors with similar gaps. I'm working right now on better quantifying it, but here's an example plot. Note the points are the actual measured values, and the lines simply connect two of the same data point together. All of these values are read by the same ADC.

enter image description here

Furthermore, here is a list of every value read by the ADC over the period of about 24 hours. There are a multitude of lines (About 20 in all). I believe the gaps represent a dead zone in the ADC or related circuitry. The y axis in this plot is the ADC read output values. Anytime you see a largely vertical line seems to represent a region where the ADC cannot record a value.

enter image description here

The ADC is part ADC0808, the analog multiplexor is Part number is HCF4051BM1, at least from the schematics I can find... It's possible a change was made at some point in time.

EDIT- More of an update: There are 3 analog multiplexors which feed into the ADC. I wanted to see if perhaps one of them was having this issue, where the others weren't. There isn't much evidence for that, however, see below. There are many gaps like this, I just chose to show one.

Count   #tot    #mux1   #mux2   #mux3
557 3360    1336    68  1956
558 252 128 4   120
577 684 292 4   388
578 964 480 8   476
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Part number and data sheet for the part? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 22:01
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Posting the actual values may help. It could be that somehow the MSB and LSB are not being read together, in the sense that if the value is changing for example from 0x00FF to 0x0100 (small change) you may be getting 0x01FF or 0x0000 (big change). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 22:36
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Wait, this is a satellite? Like, it's in space now? I hope you bought radiation-hardened parts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 5:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ It has worked in the past, it started to fail after ~10 years of continual use. I've seen similar behavior from temperature and pressure sensors, not to mention battery voltage, I just happened to post current. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 11:17
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You got a cool job. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ktc
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


Is there a reason to suspect the ADC over everything else in the system? Anything between the battery and the ground station could be causing what you see. A good fault tree will consider other causes besides the ADC.

  • The analog front-end
    • radiation effects on op-amps and analog switches
    • op-amps getting stuck at incorrect values
    • transmission gates not opening/closing, or only the N or P side working
    • thermal cycling causing intermittent opens
    • metal whiskers causing intermittent shorts
  • The ADC itself
    • single-bit error
    • data becoming out of sync with the clock (skipped/skewed bits)
    • some other failure mode specific to the type of ADC
  • The digital logic/microprocessor
    • failing to configure the loads as expected
    • not configuring or reading ADC properly
    • incorrectly packing data for transmission
  • Other loads in the system
    • subsystems turning on when not commanded to
    • unexpectedly high power draw from damaged loads
  • \$\begingroup\$ Added more information as to why I think it is the ADC. Essentially, all values read by the same ADC seem to have a similar region of missing counts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the purple channel read immediately after the pink channel? It looks a bit like the sample and hold for the purple channel sometimes only conducts one way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theran
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I don't know and I don't even know if there's a way to figure it out... But I'll see what I can do to get it figured out. It is interesting that they are the same signal level, but notice that it doesn't show up when the purple is at the higher level at all. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 0:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm guessing that what we are seeing is a half-dead CMOS transmission gate where only one of the two transistors is conducting. It's charging the sample and hold capacitor but not discharging it when the purple channel is active. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theran
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 1:07

Using the detailed information I am collecting, I am noticing the following trends:

  1. There doesn't appear to be any complete gaps in the ADC range, except for areas where it appears there just wasn't any input signal.
  2. There are a number of regions that look like the data below, where it seems that values in a small window are almost never read, with huge numbers before and after. The first column is the output from the ADC, the second is the number of occurrences, across multiple object types.

The data is:

350 253
351 106
354 1
357 1
359 2
360 183
361 270

375 288
376 188
392 1
409 1
424 762
425 1058
  1. These measurements measure a wide variety of inputs, but there are several very small scale jumps, including things that shouldn't jump quickly, like temperature, battery pressure, battery voltage, etc.

Given all of this, I would have to say that ADC or supporting circuits can fail in such a way that they provide limited capacity to measure small scale phenomena. Furthermore, it seems like these are just step functions.

I'm still trying to figure out how these jumps are connected, but failing to get the full picture...


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