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Honeywell chips go on a space mission

Honeywell International is partnering with Cypress Semiconductor to design a new generation of radiation-resistant chips for use in space vehicles.

Honeywell International is sending its newest chips to outer space.

The industrial giant said on Thursday that it is partnering with Cypress Semiconductor to design a new generation of radiation-resistant chips for use in space vehicles.

These new chips will be used in satellites to handle communications or control the satellites themselves. The chips could be used in other space-going vehicles or military equipment, Honeywell said in a statement.

The satellite semiconductor industry is a profitable but small and slow-moving market due to the extensive testing of components that go into space-faring machines. Several other chipmakers, including Peregrine Semiconductor--which makes chips for satellites and networking gear--also are looking to get a hold on the sector.

Honeywell chose to partner with Cypress Semiconductor to help speed development of the new generation of chips, which will be manufactured with a 150 nanometer, or 0.15 micron, process and debut by 2005. The nanometer scale refers to the size of the features inside the chips such as the distances between transistors.

"Our partnership with Cypress will enable us to produce...radiation-hardened, 0.15-micron technology by 2005, about twice as quickly as it would take one company to do it alone," Eric Doremus, general manager of Honeywell's Solid State Electronics Center, said in a statement.

Traditional chip manufacturing technology, which currently is at 130 nanometers and will be at 90 nanometers next year, is much further along than the radiation-hardened chip process. Traditional chips will likely transition to 65 nanometers by 2005.

But the Honeywell-Cypress chips are uniquely designed to resist the effects of radiation, which is present in much higher levels in space than inside the Earth's atmosphere. Rockwell Automation has developed its own silicon on insulator (SOI) manufacturing process to help address the harsher environment. SOI chips, which are becoming more popular, use a special layer of insulator underneath their transistors. The layer serves to reduce electrical interference.

Terms of the Honeywell-Cypress deal were not disclosed.