Working with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), NASA is pioneering the development of tiny spacecraft made from a single silicon chip that could slash interstellar exploration times.
On Wednesday at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco, NASA’s Dong-Il Moon will present new technology aimed at ensuring such spacecraft survive the intense radiation they’ll encounter on their journey.
If a silicon chip were used as a spacecraft, calculations suggest that it could travel at one-fifth of the speed of light and reach the nearest stars in just 20 years. That’s one hundred times faster than a conventional spacecraft can offer.
Twenty years in space is still too long for an ordinary silicon chip, because in addition to the frailties it suffers on earth, such as swings in temperature, it is bombarded by radiation of very high energy. This radiation leads to the accumulation of positively charged defects in the chip’s silicon dioxide layer, where they degrade device performance. The most serious of the impairments is an increase in the current that leaks through a transistor when it is supposed to be turned off, according to Yang-Kyu Choi, leader of the team at KAIST, where the work was done. However, there are also other issues, such as a shift in the voltage at which the transistor turns on.
Two options for addressing chip damage are to select a path through space that minimizes radiation exposure and to add shielding. But the former leads to longer missions and constrains exploration, and the latter adds weight and nullifies the advantage of using a miniaturized craft. A far better approach, argues Moon, is to let the devices suffer damage but then to add a an extra contact to the transistors, and use this contact to heal the devices with heating.
“On-chip healing has been around for many, many years,” says Jin-Woo Han, a member of the NASA team. Milestones including the revelation in the 1990s— by a team at the National Microelectronics Research Centre in Cork, Ireland— that heating could drive the recovery of radiation sensors, and far more recently, heat-induced healing of flash memory by Macronix of Taiwan. The critical addition made now, Han says, is the most comprehensive analysis on radiation damage.
This study uses KAIST’s experimental “gate-all-around” nanowire transistor. Gate-all-around nanowire transistors use nanoscale wires as the transistor channel instead of today’s fin-shaped channels. The gate, the electrode that turns on or off the flow of charge through the channel, completely surrounds the nanowire. Adding an extra contact to the gate allows you to pass current through it. That current heats the gate and the channel it surrounds, fixing any radiation-induced defects.
Nanowire transistors are ideal for space, according to KAIST, because they have a relatively high degree of immunity to cosmic rays and because they are very small, with dimensions in the tens of nanometers. “The typical size for [transistor-dimensions on] chips devoted to spacecraft applications is about 500 nanometers,” says Choi. “If you can replace 500 nanometer feature sizes with 20 nanometers feature sizes, the chip size and weight can be reduced.” Costs fall too.
The gate-all-around device may not be that well known today, but production is expected to rocket in the early 2020s, when silicon foundries will use it in place of the today’s FinFET for producing circuits featuring transistors with gate lengths smaller than 5-nm.
KAIST’s has been used to form three key building blocks for a single-chip spacecraft: a microprocessor, a DRAM memory for supporting this, and a flash memory that can serve as a hard disk.
Repairs to radiation-induced damage can be made many times, with experiments showing that flash memory can be recovered up to around 10,000 times and DRAM returned to its pristine state 1012 times. With logic devices, an even higher figure is expected. These results indicate that a lengthy interstellar space mission could take place, with the chip powered down every few years, heated internally to recover its performance, and then brought back to life.
Adding a second gate for heating is not ideal, because it modifies chip design and demands the creation of a new transistor library, which escalates production costs. To address this, those at KAIST are investigating the capability of a junctionless transistor that heats the channel during normal operation when current flows through it. Separately, at NASA researchers are developing on-chip embedded microheaters that are compatible with standard circuits.
Cutting the costs of self-healing tech is critical to the future of the program. It will help to increase the appeal of the technology, which will require many more years of investment if the launch of the first silicon-chip spacecraft is to get off the ground.
[osd_subscribe categories=’silicon-chip-starships’ placeholder=’Email Address’ button_text=’Subscribe Now for any new posts on the topic “SILICON CHIP STARSHIPS”‘]
Receive an email update when we add a new SILICON CHIP STARSHIPS article.
The Latest on: Silicon chip starships
via Google News
The Latest on: Silicon chip starships
- CHIPS Is a Missed Opportunity for Real Securityon August 1, 2022 at 2:52 pm
The need to do something did not produce effective legislation with the CHIPS for America Act. American technology is still vulnerable.
- 3D Printing Using Holograms Is Actually Printing In 3Don July 25, 2022 at 5:00 pm
It’s the year 2260 and you’re being beamed from your starship to the planet below ... a light-activated monomer. Their chip is a silicon wafer containing a grid of tunable crystals.
- Ming-Chi Kuoon July 20, 2022 at 5:00 pm
Ming-Chi Kuo is an analyst with KGI Securities, which is a Taiwanese business group involved in a range of industries. Kuo covers technology with a focus on Apple. His strong track record ...
- HomePod Minion July 10, 2022 at 5:00 pm
The speaker emits sound in a 360-degree array. The mini is powered by the Apple S5 chip that also powers the Apple Watch. Alongside the hardware, Apple announced several new feature updates for Siri.
- Elon Muskon July 3, 2022 at 8:50 am
Elizabeth Dwoskin is the Washington Post’s Silicon Valley correspondent. She joins CBS News for more on this.
- Relativity Space inks deal with OneWeb, reaches $1.2B in Terran R launch contractson June 30, 2022 at 8:48 am
They also have the capacity to print an even larger rocket than Terran R, even one potentially comparable of SpaceX’s Starship. “With the 3D printing tech we can definitely adapt and I think if things ...
- Perceptron: Analyzing images in the blink of an eye and tracking the life cycle of snowon June 27, 2022 at 1:04 pm
This month in AI, engineers at Penn State announced that they've created a chip that can process and classify nearly two billion images per second. Carnegie Mellon, meanwhile, has signed a $10.5 ...
- Geek Review: Apple 13-Inch MacBook Pro M2 (2022)on June 22, 2022 at 6:36 am
With the recent launch of its M2 chipset, where the debut of 2020’s M1 chip saw the tech company ... offering this latest iteration of Apple’s Silicon chipset. If you’ve been using Apple ...
- 2020: As The Hardware World Turnson June 19, 2022 at 5:00 pm
Hopefully chips like these can become early success stories that inspire other companies to finally get some RISC-V silicon in production ... their next-generation Starship vehicle which the ...
via Bing News