Space missions currently employ purpose-built, radition-hardened components. These have great advantages regarding the requirements of operating technology in space, they can withstand cosmic radiation outside Earth’s protective magnetic shield and cope with the extreme vibrations and temperature ranges they are subjected to. This hardening, however, imposes severe limitations to the hardware’s computational performance. Current space systems employ the LEON3 and LEON4 processors which reach computing speed of up to 150 MHz, on a single core esa-microprocessors. This pales in comparison to consumer processors such as the Intel Core i9 and AMD RyzenThreadripper which provide 12 and 16 cores respectively, with clock speeds over 3 GHz intel-i9, amd-threadripper. This results in a clock difference of over 20 times and that only for a single core.
Processing power defines the applications that can be run on space systems. Computationally intensive tasks such as image processing and kinematic calculations used for Earth observation and robotics require the high throughput provided by modern Commercial-of-the-Shelf (COTS) CPUs. The trade-off is that they are not hardened to handle the extreme environment in which space systems operate. One aspect to this problem’s solution is the use of redundant high-performance nodes (HPNs) and software-based reconfiguration. By expecting nodes to fail, and subsequently migrating the processing tasks to the still operational ones, it is possible to capitalize on the speed gains while providing a fallback-mechanism to handle node failures.
To cover a broad range of applications, the HPNs are coupled with space-hardened nodes called reliable computing nodes (RCN). It is therefore possible to split applications up in such a way that the control logic is executed on reliable nodes while the brunt calculations are performed on the high-performance ones.
ScOSA is the next iteration of this approach with the exciting aspect of having several applications building on top of it. This is the point where every good idea is put to the test and distilled to its enssence. Redefining the availability of computing power in space essentially unlocks the limitations placed on applications that can be realised in space. At this current time point, where space is being commercialized and showing a trend towards becoming a commodity market, its future is looking limitless.
Official project webpage DLR ScOSA
This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.