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Project pioneers use of silicon-germanium for space electronics applications
Date:11/30/2010

ut electronics in deep space are typically exposed to far greater temperature ranges, as well as to damaging radiation. The Moon's surface cycles between plus-120 Celsius during the lunar day to minus-180 Celsius at night.

The silicon-germanium electronics developed by the extreme environments team has been shown to function reliably throughout that entire plus-120 to minus-180 Celsius range. It is also highly resistant or immune to various types of radiation.

The conventional approach to protecting space electronics, developed in the 1960s, involves bulky metal boxes that shield devices from radiation and temperature extremes, Keys explained. Designers must place most electronics in a protected, temperature controlled central location and then connect them via long and heavy cables to sensors or other external devices.

By eliminating the need for most shielding and special cables, silicon-germanium technology helps reduce the single biggest problem in space launches weight. Moreover, robust SiGe circuits can be placed wherever designers want, which helps eliminate data errors caused by impedance variations in lengthy wiring schemes.

"For instance, the Mars Exploration Rovers, which are no bigger than a golf cart, use several kilometers of cable that lead into a warm box," Keys said. "If we can move most of those electronics out to where the sensors are on the robot's extremities, that will reduce cabling, weight, complexity and energy use significantly."

A Collaborative Effort

NASA currently rates the new SiGe electronics at a technology readiness level of six, which means the circuits have been integrated into a subsystem and tested in a relevant environment. The next step, level seven, involves integrating the SiGe circuits into a vehicle for space flight testing. At level eight, a new technology is mature enough to be integrated into a full mission vehicle, and at level nine the t
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Contact: John Toon
jtoon@gatech.edu
404-894-6986
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
Source:Eurekalert  

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