New approach could change how space vehicles, instruments are designed

Washington, Dec 1 (ANI): Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have pioneered the use of silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology to produce electronics that are highly resistant to both wide temperature variations and space radiation.

"The team's overall task was to develop an end-to-end solution for NASA - a tested infrastructure that includes everything needed to design and build extreme-environment electronics for space missions," said John Cressler, a Ken Byers Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

SiGe alloys combine silicon, the most common microchip material, with germanium at nanoscale dimensions. The result is a robust material that offers important gains in toughness, speed and flexibility.

Compared to conventional approaches, SiGe electronics can provide major reductions in weight, size, complexity, power and cost, as well as increased reliability and adaptability.

"They advanced the state-of-the-art in analog silicon-germanium technology for space use - a crucial step in developing a new paradigm leading to lighter weight and more capable space vehicle designs," said Andrew S. Keys, center chief technologist at the Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA program manager.

The silicon-germanium electronics developed by the extreme environments team has been shown to function reliably throughout that entire plus-120 to minus-180 Celsius range. It is also highly resistant or immune to various types of radiation.

"To be working both in analog and digital, miniaturizing, and developing extreme-temperature and radiation tolerance all at the same time - that's not what you'd call the average student design project," said Richard W. Berger, a BAE Systems senior systems architect who collaborated on the project.

Other space-oriented companies are also pursuing the new silicon-germanium technology, Cressler said. NASA, he explained, wants the intellectual-property barriers to the technology to be low so that it can be used widely.

"The idea is to make this infrastructure available to all interested parties. That way it could be used for any electronics assembly - an instrument, a spacecraft, an orbital platform, lunar-surface applications, Titan missions - wherever it can be helpful. In fact, the process of defining such an NASA mission-insertion road map is currently in progress."

A paper on the project findings will appear in December in IEEE Transactions on Device and Materials Reliability, 2010. (ANI)

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