PORTLAND, Ore. MRAM technology is headed for orbit with the launch of SpriteSat by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
According to Angstrom Aerospace Corp. (Uppsala, Sweden), its microelectromechanical system (MEMS)-based magnetometer will use MRAM to replace both static RAM and flash memory on the Japanese research satellite.
"MRAM replaces both flash and battery-backed SRAM in Angstrom's module for the SpriteSat," said professor Johan Akerman, a specialist in materials and spintronics at the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm). "MRAM's ability to reconfigure critical programs and route definitions during various stages of a satellite mission is a significant benefit."
|Engineers inspect Angstrom Aerospace's MRAM-based magnetometer subsystem on SpriteSat which will be launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.|
MRAM was conceived in the 1990s as a substitute for different types of memory, from RAM to hard disks. Since it is solid state, MRAM surpasses the spinning mechanisms of a hard disk. Also, since individual bits can be erased and rewritten an unlimited number of times, MRAM surpasses flash memory, which can only be erased and rewritten in large blocks less than 1 million times before bits begin to fail. MRAM also is nonvolatile.
Despite these advantages, MRAM has yet to fulfill its promise. Due to continuing problems with MRAM development, even the highest-density MRAM chips, such as Freescale's MR2A16A, can store only 4 Mbits of data at a unit cost of about $20 compared to $5 for flash densities of 4 Gbits. For niche applications such as military and aerospace, MRAM is beginning to replace other types of memory.
Angstrom Aerospace is using MRAM exclusively in its satellite subsystem. MRAM will hold store program data as well as the configuration bits for its field-programmable gate array. In addition, MRAM's relatively easy reprogrammability will allow both program code and the FPGA to be reconfigured from the ground by uploading new memory images to the MRAM.
The Angstrom Aerospace subsystem, to be launched with SpriteSat in the second half of 2008, is a complex magnetometer that will monitor the Earth's magnetic fields as the satellite orbits. The overall mission of the SpriteSat is to study "sprites"--visible lighting effects--in the upper atmosphere.
Separately, e2v'Technologies PLC (Chelmsford, U.K.) announced it is testing Freescale Semiconductor's MR2A16A MRAM in order to qualify it for military specifications at temperature ranges of -55 to +125 degrees C. Freescale's current MRAMs operate at -40 to +105 degrees C.