JAN 30, 2018 6:00 PM PST

ESA to Test Consumer-Grade Computer Memory in Space

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Although most satellites harbor onboard computer systems, they’re much different from the consumer-grade computers that you’d find at the electronics store for personal use. Satellite computer systems are built exclusively to perform in the harsh space environment.

Space agencies utilize various methods to make satellite computer systems reliable and space-resistant. Some of those include CPU redundancy and radiation shielding, just to name a few. Comparatively, most consumer-grade computer parts lack these space-resistant features.

Chimera is a computer logic board that the ESA wants to send into space for testing.

Image Credit: Chimera via ESA

Despite the handful of forward-thinking advancements to ensure technology’s survival in outer space, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch a new experiment dubbed Chimera to see how consumer-grade electronics fare in the harsh space environment.

Chimera will piggy-back off the launch of a more critical experiment, but it will involve sending a logic board packed with consumer-grade computer memory beyond Earth’s atmosphere. There, it will attempt to operate in the frigid vacuum of space, contending with cosmic radiation and other potentially-hazardous factors.

"Interaction with charged particles can induce 'bit flips' in computer memory, introducing errors," noted Tomasz Szewczyk, a member of the Chimera experiment team. "We perform ground testing and software modeling to understand how different components are affected by radiation, but nothing beats real testing in space."

Related: NASA satellites can be hacked just like personal computers can be

The Chimera logic board will boast various types of computer memory instead of just one to see how each reacts to the outer space environment. Depending on the results, future space missions could utilize similar types of consumer-grade computer memory to reduce spacecraft manufacturing costs and make space exploration more tangible.

"There's an increasing push to use more off-the-shelf parts in orbit because they are theoretically cheaper and more capable than space-designed parts, but there are question marks over their reliability,” Szewczyk continued.

"For instance, different batches of the same part may have radically different reactions to charged particles, based on small variations in the raw materials or the manufacturing process. That's why we are flying three versions of each memory."

Some space missions already use consumer-grade electronics, such as in the case of flash storage or where there aren’t any viable space-resistant alternatives. Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how the computer memory experiment goes and whether it’ll have any bearing on how space agencies build satellites going forward.

Source: ESA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
DEC 08, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 08, 2019
SpaceX Just Resupplied the International Space Station Again
The International Space Station is poised to receive some much-needed new supplies and science experiments today, a feat made possible by a routine resuppl
DEC 15, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 15, 2019
MAVEN Mission Connects Mars' Wind Patterns to Surface Features
NASA’s MAVEN mission, launched on November 18th, 2013, has been orbiting Mars and investigating the planet’s features for more than half a deca
DEC 18, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 18, 2019
Physics in Peril? (Part II) - Lost in the "Darkness"
Not many share the same antagonistic view with Sabine Hossenfelder, the physicist who associates the current awkward state of physical science with theoret
FEB 24, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 24, 2020
What Will Space Tourism Be Like in the Future?
Space tourism that something that, at one point, was once considered to be a thing of science fiction. While only a limited number of people not registered
FEB 25, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 25, 2020
What Would Happen if We Sent a Spacecraft Into the Sun?
In 2018, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe to get its closest look at the Sun yet. The probe gets as close as about 6.2 million kilometers from the Sun&
MAR 10, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAR 10, 2020
NASA's OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Inadvertently Discovered a Black Hole
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, a short and sweet acronym for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification...
Loading Comments...