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IBM tech powers NASA Mars exploit

Posted: 07 Aug 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mars exploration? power architecture? processor?

IBM's Power Architecture will make a return to outer space as NASA plans to launch the Phoenix Mars Lander, its most sophisticated probe to date.

The lander will head to the polar north of Mars where it will dig into the frozen surface in search of the building blocks of life. This probe will be outfitted with a radiation-hardened RAD6000 computer by BAE Systems and based on Power Architecture. As the "brains" of the space craft, the RAD6000 will process navigational data and drive key systems both in space and on the planet surface.

The program cost for the Phoenix launch is $420 million dollars and launch opportunities come only once every 26 months. Once on the surface, Phoenix will endure temperatures down to -100F and wind speeds of up to 40mps. It is critical that all systems run smoothly throughout the mission. The RAD6000's ability to withstand the rigors of space and open architecture programmable from workstations to supercomputers, suits the platform for the 423 million mile journey.

"We are honored that NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected Power Architecture and the BAE Systems RAD6000 to be an integral part of a mission that may answer the age old question; could life exist on another planet," said Raj Desai, VP IBM global engineering solutions.

In 2003 NASA launched the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers toward Mars to see if water, a key building block of life as we understand it, was ever present on the planet. The mission, originally planned for 90 days continues to this day transmitting an unprecedented amount of data and stunning photos back to earth.

The key instruments on both rovers relied on a single board computer built with a 32-bit Power Architecture licensed to BAE Systems by IBM and a RAD6000 processor radiation hardened by BAE systems.

"We selected Power Architecture as the most amenable architecture for space-based missions," said Vic Scuderi, space product manager for BAE Systems. "Experience bears out that choice, as the space community has accepted the RAD6000 as the workhorse for space computer applications."

Surviving windstorms with speeds of up to 128kmph and temperatures of -199F, Power, once radiation hardened, has become the de facto standard for space qualified processors.




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