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Boeing Sees Extreme-Environment Space Gear For NASA

By | June 5, 2006

      NASA awarded The Boeing Co. [BA] and universities a contract to develop further gear for extremes of the space environment, including very low temperatures and space radiation, the company announced.

      The advanced equipment could, for example, help robotic exploration of the moon in a search for water/ice, which if found there could help to extend missions to the moon and provide a propellant for spacecraft.

      While the contract is worth a modest $2.75 million, the payoff could be large for robotic and manned assets.

      The program is led by principal investigator John Cressler, Byers professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

      This academic-industry team will continue to develop Silicon-Germanium (SiGe) mixed-signal circuits for extreme environments, first initiated by NASA last year.

      Mixed-signals circuits contain components that process analog and digital signals and are essential to the design of electronics that operate, control, monitor and reconfigure many space systems.

      The Phase 2A contract period concludes in April next year, and Phase 2B is expected to run until April 2009.

      Boeing stated that under the contract, the team will build on its Phase 1 successes and continue to define application tasks; design and fabricate integrated circuits; develop simulation and modeling tools for design; assess reliability and radiation tolerance; develop integrated packaging; and qualify performance of the devices in estreme cold temperatures and under incident radiation.

      The technology could be used for upcoming NASA Robotic Lunar Exploration Program (RLEP) initiatives. Starting with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launch in October 2008, the RLEP is responsible for a series of robotic missions to the moon and supports future exploration activities for sustained robotic and human exploration to Mars and beyond.

      President Bush has called for a return to the moon, followed by a mission to Mars, and then to other points, in coming decades.

      SiGe electronics have intrinsic tolerance to space radiation and reduce the need for housing the electronics in warm boxes, conserving energy, reducing launch weight and improving reliability. This technology would allow extended mission range and duration, could be used in lunar landers, hoppers, rovers or data gathering stations, and also may benefit human space transportation systems for returning astronauts to the moon, Mars and beyond.

      “Future spacecraft returning to the moon will determine if ice exists in a form usable by humans in the permanently dark craters of the south polar region,” said Leora Peltz, leader of the Boeing team in Advanced Network and Space Systems, a division of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

      The team includes

      • The Georgia Institute of Technology
      • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
      • Auburn University
      • The University of Tennessee
      • Vanderbilt University
      • The University of Maryland
      • The University of Arkansas
      • Boeing
      • BAE Systems [BAESY.PK]
      • IBM [IBM]
      • Lynguent.

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