Actel FPGAs Help European Space Agency Uncover Origins of Solar System

7/22/2004 - Further solidifying its position as the FPGA supplier-of-choice for today's mission-critical, high-reliability applications, Actel Corporation (Nasdaq: ACTL) announced that more than 400 of its radiation-tolerant and radiation-hardened FPGAs have been utilized by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its broad range of contractors as part of the ESA's Rosetta space mission. The Rosetta spacecraft, which launched on March 2, 2004, is embarking on a ten-year mission to reach the comet P67 Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Once the three-ton spacecraft reaches its destination, it will begin orbiting the 4.5 billion year old comet, recording a vast amount of scientific data, much relating to the origin of the Solar System. In addition, the Rosetta spacecraft will launch a separate module intended to land on the comet and collect an even greater amount of data.

"The Rosetta spacecraft represents the largest use of Actel FPGAs in a European space mission to date," said Ken O'Neill, director, military and aerospace product marketing at Actel. "Our devices were selected because of their robust functionality, reliability, flexibility and radiation performance. In addition, for a complex project such as the Rosetta spacecraft, it was important that the various design teams had the ability to modify their designs very late in the design process, with little additional expense, something that's not possible with ASICs."

Actel antifuse-based FPGAs were selected for a wide range of lander and orbiter instrument applications and played an integral role in achieving the demanding power, mass and size requirements of the spacecraft platform and the various subsystems. Areas of use in the main spacecraft platform include the main computer, power system, mass memory controller and the antenna point control.

The Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) Instrument, which is one of the major scientific instruments that forms the payload on the Rosetta, uses 23 Actel FPGAs alone. The RPC Instrument, which was developed by a consortium led by Imperial College London, consists of a central power unit, an interface unit and a data processing unit. The instrument is attached to five separate sensor subunits that will measure different aspects of the plasma field around the comet. Each subunit is connected with a specially adapted IEEE1355 point-to-point communication link that is implemented using Actel RT1280A devices.

"It was very fortunate that we used the Actel devices, as a serious bug was found in an externally supplied ASIC after delivery of the first prototype to the European Space Agency," said Christopher Carr, space projects manager at Imperial College London. "Thanks to the flexibility of the FPGA, we were able to utilize the spare capacity of one FPGA device to provide a work-around solution to the ASIC bug. This was accomplished in a fraction of the time and cost it would have required to correct the ASIC."

Another instrument that makes extensive use of Actel devices is the COSIMA time-of-flight mass spectrometer. This instrument is used to determine the chemical composition of dust emerging from the nucleus of the comet. Two Actel RT1280A FPGAs are responsible for the stepper motor control inside the Target Manipulator Unit, which handles the dust collection and brings the samples into various analysis positions. A radiation-tolerant RT54SX16 device resides on the spacecraft's interface board to serve as a high-speed link between the COSIMA processing unit and the Rosetta spacecraft.

In total, over 400 devices were ordered for the program, including approximately 200 radiation-hardened RH1280 FPGAs, 100 radiation-tolerant RT14100A devices, 60 RT1280A devices and 40 RT54SX16 devices.

About Actel
Actel Corporation is a supplier of innovative programmable logic solutions, including field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) based on antifuse and flash technologies, high-performance intellectual property (IP) cores, software development tools and design services, targeted for the high-speed communications, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) replacement and radiation-tolerant markets. Founded in 1985, Actel employs more than 500 people worldwide. The Company is traded on the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol ACTL and is headquartered at 2061 Stierlin Court, Mountain View, CA, 94043-4655. Telephone: 888-99-ACTEL (992-2835). Internet:

The Actel name and logo are registered trademarks of Actel Corporation.

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