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2 Mb FRAM is ready to serve space-grade FPGAs, processors

A new ferroelectric RAM (FRAM) memory chip claims to overcome the two main challenges confronted by space designs: radiation and limited power. Infineon Technologies LLC, part of Infineon Technologies AG, focusing on memory solutions, claims that its new serial interface FRAM features memory cells that are intrinsically hardened to radiations. They are immune to magnetic fields, so they don’t react to charged particles like MRAM devices.

Next, this FRAM device boasts lowest operating current of 10 mA maximum with an extreme low programming voltage of 2 V. “That’s crucial because of the limited power that space designs get from solar panels,” said Helmut Puchner, VP fellow of aerospace and defense at Infineon Technologies. “When energy runs out, and payloads go into sleep or hibernation mode, the batteries need to charge up again,” he added. “You want to keep critical information on the memory when the system is back, so you can continue exactly from where you left.”

That, plus non-volatility, makes this radiation-hardened FRAM a direct replacement for serial NOR flash and EEPROMs in data logging of mission-critical data, telemetry storage, and command and control calibration data storage. It can also be used to provide boot code storage for microcontrollers and FPGAs.

Figure 1 The FRAM memory chip serves data storage for sensors and instruments for telemetry, tracking and control, data logging for calibration data for satellites, and processor boot code applications. Source: Infineon

Highly reliable, high-performance and high-density memories have been a challenging component for the space industry to find and procure for space-grade processors and FPGAs. This space-qualified FRAM device aims to fulfill that vacuum with 2 Mb density and non-volatile storage in extreme environments.

FPGA’s memory match

In retrospect, as Puchner recounted, there was a fundamental change in the space industry more than a decade ago when it began incorporating FPGAs. For the first time, the space industry had relatively high-capacity compute system that met radiation requirements and shifted some of the computational tasks from the ground station to satellite.

Now, those FPGAs need infrastructure, including memories that enable a higher level of performance and throughput that compute-intensive space-bound applications demand. “Here comes a new memory to help their computational requirements,” Puchner said. “The radiation-hardened FRAM isn’t a super high-performance computational chip, but it’s non-volatile and still adds a lot of value to the system.”

Another boost comes from the fact that it supports the standard Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) protocol to serve space designs that are pin limited. “A serial interface doesn’t waste a lot of pins,” he added. That’s why serial protocols are increasingly used in satellite and space applications, where suppliers are now offering SPI-capable space-grade processors and FPGAs.

Figure 2 The serial interface facilitates ease of use as well as provides support for a smaller footprint and lower pin count. Source: Infineon

With SPI support and 2 Mb density at an operating voltage range of 2.0 V to 3.6 V, the FRAM device offers virtually infinite endurance with no wear leveling, 10 trillion read/write cycles, and 120 years of data retention at 85°C.

The 2 Mb radiation-hardened, non-volatile serial interface FRAMs are available now.

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