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New radiation-hardened computers are ready to blast off on space missions

Aerospace company BAE Systems has a smaller, faster, tougher computer in the works for spacecraft and satellites.

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BAE Systems

If you think getting knocked around in your backpack on the subway is tough on a computer, try going into space, where radiation and cosmic rays can cause sensitive computer equipment to degrade and fail.

Aerospace company BAE Systems has just announced a new computer it calls "radiation-hardened." According to the company, the new RAD5545 "provides next-generation spacecraft with the high-performance onboard processing capacity needed to support future space missions," and is faster and more power-efficient than its predecessor. 

A single RAD5545 SBC replaces multiple cards on previous generations of spacecraft. It combines high performance, large amounts of memory, and fast throughput to improve spacecraft capability, efficiency, and mission performance. With its improved computational throughput, storage, and bandwidth, it will provide spacecraft with the ability to conduct new missions, including those requiring encryption processing, multiple operating systems, ultra high-resolution image processing, autonomous operation, and simultaneous support for multiple payloads — missions that were impossible with previous single-board computers.

Because it's a single-card computer with all the components on one circuit board, it's smaller, with fewer parts to potentially fail, and it uses specially insulated components to protect against radiation. Long-term trips, such as to Mars, would especially require computer hardware that could stand up to the long-term rigors of space travel.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise meanwhile is trying a different approach to dealing with radiation. It's space-testing relatively ordinary computers with software to detect and correct radiation-induced computing errors.