Xilinx announced that its radiation tolerant Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) are playing a critical role in the successful NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars exploration mission. Xilinx radiation-tolerant Virtex FPGAs are being used in the "main brain" of the rover vehicle, controlling the motors for the wheels, steering, arms, cameras and various instrumentation, enabling the vehicle to travel about the planet. Xilinx radiation-tolerant XQVR4000XL devices were used to control the crucial pyrotechnic operations during the multi-phase descent and landing procedure for the Spirit Rover and will play a similar role in the Opportunity MER rover, scheduled to land on January 25, 2004.
Designers at JPL chose Xilinx chips for this mission based on the radiation tolerance, high gate density, on-board RAM, and large I/O count offered by the Virtex family. On board reprogrammability of the FPGAs allowed for design changes and updates right up to launch time, allowing the design team to meet demanding schedules.
According to JPL, this same "on the fly" reprogrammable feature, inherent to Xilinx FPGAs, will be used for post-launch reprogramming in its next generation deep space UHF radio. This radio will be a part of the '05 Mars orbiter, and probably other missions as well.
"The use of Xilinx products in such extreme and critical conditions is a testament to the performance and reliability of our technology. We are pleased to be playing such an important role in this monumental achievement by JPL," said Howard Bogrow, Xilinx marketing manager for Aerospace and Defense Products. "This success further underscores the broad range of applications in which programmability and Xilinx FPGAs can be used, even in environments that require the utmost durability."
Xilinx currently supplies Virtex radiation tolerant products up to one million system gates and total ionizing dose guaranteed to 100 kRads(si). Soon to be announced is a family of Virtex-II products up to six million system gates and total ionizing dose guaranteed to 200 kRads(si).