PULLMAN, Wash. — Revolutionary advances in electronic circuits and devices will make it possible to design future space vehicles and satellites that will be considerably smaller, lighter, higher performing, and far more affordable. New space-tolerant microcircuit design technology is at the heart of developing next generation space systems. Researchers at Washington State University’s Center for Design of Analog-Digital Integrated Circuits (CDADIC) are currently helping to advance the state-of-the-art in this field for the U.S. Air Force with the aid of $1.2 million in recently-awarded federal funds.

The funds will support one year of research in mixed-signal (analog-digital) electronics technology for space, identified as a priority research area by the Air Force. Center researchers are working closely with the federal program sponsor, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space Vehicles Directorate, at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., on key research areas that will help develop future, high-tech space vehicles and inter-space communication systems, such as “microsatellites.”

“With the aid of this research, we hope we will be able to greatly improve performance and shrink satellites to a very small size,” said Walter Shedd, program manager in the Radiation Effects Research Group, Space Vehicles Directorate, AFRL. “Currently, it is very expensive to get a satellite into orbit — about $10,000 for every pound. Smaller satellites, operating with much lower power, will help us reduce the launch cost considerably. Our goal is to develop more flexible satellites capable of being reconfigured in space to meet changing system demands. We hope to make this possible with research conducted through this grant awarded to CDADIC.”

The research consortium, headquartered at WSU, is one of 53 National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers. Four universities are affiliated with CDADIC: WSU, University of Washington, Oregon State University, and State University of New York at Stony Brook; and 18 industry partners. Since its inception in 1989, CDADIC has gained a national reputation in designing chips for mixed-signal applications and has established a successful university-industry team approach to solving research problems – credentials that the AFRL was seeking when it made this award to the center. Boeing and Honeywell, both CDADIC partners who have a long history working on defense-related research and experience designing microelectronic systems for space, are integral team members on the Air Force project.

“This is certainly an exciting and challenging time for CDADIC,” said John Ringo, center director and professor in WSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “This grant will allow us to work on mixed-signal circuit design research that will result in significant improvements and innovations in circuit design used for space applications. Some of the work that will result from this research will benefit the commercial sector as well. Radiation hardened circuits, for example, are necessary components for all space applications, but advances in the technology will be of value to all of us, providing improvements in our homes, on the road, and in our hospitals. This funding will allow us to conduct some exciting research work in the field and, in the process, provide our students with extraordinary research and learning opportunities.”

The focus of the research is on radiation-hardened, mixed-signal microcircuit technologies based on silicon-on-insulator (SOI). These technologies are critical for future defense spacecraft systems, making it possible to dramatically reduce mass and power requirements, yet greatly improving system performance. Because of the natural radiation from the cosmos and sun, these microcircuits must also be radiation-hardened in order to function and survive in space. Specific research areas will include standard cell topologies in radiation-hardened SOI; system circuit modeling for Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) circuit implementation; reconfigurable mixed-signal electronics; system-on-a chip; predictive radiation effects modeling; and ultra low-power technologies.

The $1.2 million federal funds will be administered and monitored through WSU. The funds have doubled CDADIC’s annual research dollars, allowing the center to continue its decade-long growth pattern. For more information on the center, visit its Web site at www.eecs.wsu.edu/cdadic.