Space-grade CPUs: How do you send more computing power into space?
Figuring out radiation was a huge “turning point in the history of space electronics.”
Phobos-Grunt, perhaps the most ambitious deep space mission ever attempted by Russia, crashed down into the ocean at the beginning of 2012. The spacecraft was supposed to land on the battered Martian moon Phobos, gather soil samples, and get them back to Earth. Instead, it ended up helplessly drifting in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for a few weeks because its onboard computer crashed just before it could fire the engines to send the spacecraft on its way to Mars.
In the ensuing report, Russian authorities blamed heavy charged particles in galactic cosmic rays that hit the SRAM chips and led to a latch-up, a chip failure resulting from excessive current passing through. To deal with this latch-up, two processors working in the Phobos-Grunt’s TsVM22 computer initiated a reboot. After rebooting, the probe then went into a safe mode and awaited instructions from ground control. Unfortunately, those instructions never arrived.
“All parts should go together without forcing. You must remember that the parts you are reassembling were disassembled by you. Therefore, if you can’t get them together again, there must be a reason. By all means, do not use a hammer.” —IBM Manual, 1925