Chipping Away at Space Costs

The Air Force Research Lab anticipates launching a test satellite into space in November that carries a novel computer chip, known as Virtex-5 QV. This chip is designed to be significantly more durable, and AFRL officials also expect it to help significantly reduce the costs of space systems. Xilinx of San Jose builds the chip, which is a field programmable gate array design, capable of complex processing. With this type of chip, “there can be up to an 80 percent savings in electronic hardware expenses,” said Creigh Gordon, senior electronics engineer in AFRL’s space vehicles directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M. The chip is also is 1,000 times less sensitive to space radiation than similar commercial chips, according to AFRL. Several major satellite builders are slated to receive Virtex-5 prototypes this month, and production units will be available in mid-2011. (Kirtland report by Michael P. Kleiman)