High Performance FPGA’s Take Flight in Micro Satellites Issue 75

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xilinx75The UKube1 mission is the pilot mission for the U.K. Space
Agency’s planned CubeSat program. CubeSats are a class of
nanosatellites that are scalable from the basic 1U satellite
(10 x 10 x 10 cm) up to 3U (30 x 10 x 10 cm) and beyond, and which
are flown in low-earth orbit. The typical development cost of a
CubeSat payload is less than $100,000, and development time is
short. This combination makes CubeSats an ideal platform for verifying
new and exciting technologies in orbit without the associated
overhead or risks that would be present in flying these payloads on
a larger mission. Of course, this class of satellites can present its
own series of design challenges for the engineers involved.
The EADS Astrium payload for the UKube1 mission comprises
two experiments, both of which are FPGA based. The first experiment
is the validation of a patent held by Astrium on random-number
generation. True random-number generation is an essential component
of secure communications systems. The second experiment
is the flight of a large, high-performance Xilinx® Virtex®-4 FPGA
with the aim of achieving additional in-flight experience with this
technology while gaining an understanding of the device’s radiation
performance and capabilities in the low-earth orbit (LEO). Figure 1
shows the architecture of the payload.

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