Electronic hardware aboard 2012 test satellite would be able to 'transform'

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London, July 23 (ANI): Reports indicate that the flight computer of a test satellite planned for 2012 will contain electronic hardware that can be completely reconfigured in space, allowing it to switch form.

According to a report in New Scientist, dubbed the "flying laptop", the spacecraft is the brainchild of Toshinori Kuwahara of the Institute of Space Systems at the University of Stuttgart, Germany.

The hardware in the satellite would be able to switch from, say, an atmospheric pollution sensor to a near-Earth asteroid detector.

The craft will carry a host of instruments and sensors, such as cameras, multispectral imagers, thermal infrared imagers, star trackers, GPS receivers and sea-surface-height sensing radar.

Using such devices in different combinations requires different computing configurations, both for operating them and for processing the data they collect.

For this reason, standard probes are confined to one or two tasks.

To enable his craft to multitask, Kuwahara will eschew the standard microprocessors used to process data in today's flight computers.

Instead, the flying laptop will construct the best possible microprocessor for the task at hand, using microchips called field-programmable gate arrays.

FPGAs contain logic gates that can be connected and disconnected by programmable switches.

All that's needed to move from one task to another is to retrieve the relevant logic gate connection settings from the flying laptop's memory- or beam them to the spacecraft.

Kuwahara has to find a way to protect the FPGA circuits from charged cosmic ray particles, which can interfere with digital data and cause programming errors.

He plans to use multiple back-up FPGAs all doing the same job at the same time, along with a program to decide which ones are performing correctly. (ANI)

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