Cosmic rays and other radiation sources make space a very hostile place for electronics, so BAE Systems announced today that it's rolling out its latest generation of radiation-hardened computers. The new RAD5545 single-board computer (SBC) is designed to survive the hard radiation in space while providing "exponential improvements" over the company's previous RAD750 SBC in terms of size, speed, and power-efficiency.

As microelectronics become faster and smaller, they become increasingly vulnerable to space radiation. Processors and other devices are subjected to constant background radiation and bursts of high-energy particles that degrade insulation, damage semiconductors, corrupt memory systems, and build up electric charges that can arc and cause more trouble. Eventually, the electronics degrade so far that the spacecraft's systems will fail completely.

To protect against this, processors like the RAD5545 SBC incorporate protective technologies, including insulated chips, bipolar incorporated circuits with higher radiation tolerances, magnetoresistive RAM or MRAM for non-volatile memories, special titanium shielding for components, and shielding of the chips themselves using depleted boron.

Produced at BAE's facility in Manassas, Virginia, the thinking behind the RAD5545 SBC is to replace multiple processor cards with a single unit. By integrating this hardware, the company says that the RAD5545 SBC has better computational throughput, storage and bandwidth, allowing it to handle encryption processing, multiple operating systems, ultra high-resolution image processing, autonomous operation and simultaneous support for multiple payloads in a way that was impossible for multiple cards.

"The RAD5545 SBC is the next step in the evolution of space computers," says Dave Rea, director of On-board Processing and Advanced Technology at BAE Systems. "It's the most technologically advanced radiation-hardened, general-purpose processor for space applications."

BAE Systems