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MRAM is fit for space mission

Posted: 16 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SRAM? MRAM? flash memory? Japan aerospace mission?

MRAM technology is headed for orbit with the launch of SpriteSat by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Angstrom Aerospace Corp. said its MEMS-based magnetometer would use MRAM in place of both SRAM and flash memory on the Japanese research satellite.

"MRAM's ability to reconfigure critical programs and route definitions during various stages of a satellite mission is a significant benefit," said Johan Akerman, a specialist in materials and spintronics at Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology.

MRAM was conceived in the 1990s as a replacement for storage platforms ranging from RAM to hard drives. Since it is a solid-state platform, MRAM does away with the spinning mechanisms of a hard drive. Additionally, individual bits in an MRAM can be erased and rewritten an unlimited number of times, whereas flash memory can be erased and rewritten in large blocks fewer than 1 million times before bits begin to fail. Further, MRAM is nonvolatile.

Engineers inspect Angstrom Aerospace's MRAM-based magnetometer subsystem on SpriteSat. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency expects to launch the research satellite in 2H 08.

Despite these advantages, MRAM has yet to fulfill its promise. Because of continuing problems with development, even the highest-density MRAM chips, such as Freescale's MR2A16A, can store only 4Mbits of data at a unit cost of about $20, compared with $5 for flash densities of 4Gbits. For niche applications such as military and aerospace, however, MRAM is beginning to replace other types of memory.

Angstrom Aerospace is using MRAM exclusively in its satellite subsystem. The memory will store program data as well as the configuration bits for an FPGA. The memory's relatively easy reprogrammability will allow both the program code and the FPGA to be reconfigured from the ground by uploading new memory images to the MRAM.

Study 'sprites'
The Angstrom Aerospace subsystem is a complex magnetometer that will monitor the Earth's magnetic field as the satellite orbits. SpriteSat's overall mission is to study "sprites"visible lighting effectsin the upper atmosphere.

Separately, E2V Technologies plc announced it is testing MR2A16A MRAM to qualify for military specification at a temperature range of -55C to 125C. Freescale's current MRAMs operate at -40C to 105C.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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