Energy, Intel collaborate on space-ready Pentium CPU

The Air Force Research Laboratory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Reconnaissance
Office and Sandia National Laboratories will cooperate in the design project. Sandia
handles microelectronics R&D for DOE.

NASA will use the radiation-hardened processors in space probes to Jupiter’s moon
Europa, which has a liquid ocean, icecaps and heavy radiation, said Robert S. Blewer,
deputy director of strategic partnerships at Sandia’s Microelectronics Center in
Albuquerque, N.M.

Hardened CPUs typically can run 20 million to 25 million instructions per second, but
those developed under the Intel agreement will likely reach 200 MIPS, he said.

It’s more efficient to use a satellite to process the raw data there as opposed to
downloading it to Earth, Blewer said.

Sandia officials plan to use the hardened processors for satellite surveillance under
the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Blewer said.

“If a nation were to explode a nuclear bomb in the upper atmosphere to knock out
communications systems, the satellites could still function,” he said. “We want
the systems in space to be immune to manmade and natural problems.”

Sandia will spend $64 million on the four-year agreement, Blewer said.

The laboratories have engaged in 60 cooperative R&D projects with Intel since 1993,
he said.

“The five generations of chips that we have hardened have been essential elements
in earth satellites, the Galileo mission, missiles, nuclear weapons and in other
applications” where radiation such as cosmic rays can degrade conventional
electronics, said John Crawford of Sandia.

Former Intel chairman Gordon Moore, who propounded Moore’s Law of microprocessor
evolution, transferred a processor design to Sandia back in 1980 and also played a role in
the December agreement. The company gave Sandia rights to its early 8085 and 8051
microcontrollers, Blewer said.

Intel also constructed a teraFLOPS supercomputer, which can execute one trillion
floating-point operations per second, under a Sandia supercomputer contract in 1995,
Blewer said. 

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