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Microchip scoops NASA's $50m contract for high-performance spaceflight computing processor

The new processor will cater to both space missions and Earth-based applications

Graphic of a processor in a circuit board

NASA has teamed up with Microchip Technology Inc for a high-performance spaceflight computing (HPSC) processor that will aid the American space agency’s upcoming missions while adding to existing spacecraft capabilities.

Notably, the three-year deal will see Microchip design an HPSC processor that will outperform the computational capacity of current space flight computers by at least 100 times. The distinction will facilitate NASA's future lunar and planetary exploration missions.

Most importantly, the new processor will enable the processing power to rise, fall or freeze based on advancing space operational requirements for optimal power consumption. 

As for Earth-related applications, NASA said the HPSC processor could be useful for commercial systems on Earth requiring mission-critical edge computing in the same vein as space missions that can continue operating safely even if a component abruptly fails.

Industrial automation, edge computing, time-sensitive ethernet data transmission, artificial intelligence, and IoT gateways could all benefit from the new processor, according to NASA.

"This cutting-edge spaceflight processor will have a tremendous impact on our future space missions and even technologies here on Earth," said Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation within the space technology mission directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 

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"This effort will amplify existing spacecraft capabilities and enable new ones and could ultimately be used by virtually every future space mission, all benefiting from more capable flight computing," added Werkheiser.

NASA's principal technologist for advanced avionics, Wesley Powell, commented, "Our current spaceflight computers were developed almost 30 years ago.” 

"While they have served past missions well, future NASA missions demand significantly increased onboard computing capabilities and reliability. The new computing processor will provide the advances required in performance, fault tolerance, and flexibility to meet these future mission needs."

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