Hidden Nook

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005



Making Computers Radiation Resistant


[Media Source*]

(Universe Today) Modern spaceflight is dependent on reliable computers to handle navigation, life support, and other functions. The problem is that radiation in space, such as cosmic rays can cause computer chips to calculate incorrectly. NASA is working a solution that would run multiple redundant computers to do the same calculation several times over and then vote on which is the correct result.

Currently NASA is using "Rad-hard" chips which, although highly resistant towards cosmic radiation, they are about ten times slower than a personal computer making them extremely inefficient from a technology stand point. Although the "chip election" idea seems noble, having a democratic system within life support may not be as appealing, especially if all of the chips have different results!

(Universe Today) Team member Raphael Some of JPL explains: "One way to use faster, consumer CPUs in space is simply to have three times as many CPUs as you need: The three CPUs perform the same calculation and vote on the result. If one of the CPUs makes a radiation-induced error, the other two will still agree, thus winning the vote and giving the correct result."

This works, but often it's overkill, wasting precious electricity and computing power to triple-check calculations that aren't critical.

Although many have suggested alternatives, such as using Rad-hard chips for life support and multiple "voting chips" for other systems, it may be wiser for NASA to invest in perhaps lead shielding around the shuttle which would act as a barrier between the radiation and the computer systems (not to mention the humans as well).

Although this would probably add an immense weight physically and financially towards the space rocket, it would probably save money in the long run and allow scientists to actually run computers that can out perform a play station.



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By Darnell Clayton • 10:14 PM • Email Post • •

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