51

There are a number of reasons why spacecraft electronics typically lag what is commercially available by several years. Radiation tolerance Electronics are very susceptible to radiation phenomenon that terrestrial electronics are largely protected from by the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field. Common radiation-based failure mechanisms are Single-Event ...


33

A big part of it is reliability. NASA could probably put in an Intel Xeon chip made in 2012 that has a crazy high amount of processing power. However, the chip that was used, the RAD750, has years of experiments and usage behind it, such as being used in a variety of spacecraft including: Deep Impact comet chasing spacecraft, launched in January 2005 -...


29

One might think that spacecraft would be on the cutting edge of technology. I wouldn't think this would be the case at all. If anything, NASA would want to use hardware (and software) that has been extensively tested throughout years of use, both in NASA and in industry as a whole. The last thing NASA wants is to find a bug in a spacecraft's system at an ...


15

Image data is typically compressed using standard image compression algorithms. For example, the National Imagery Transmission Format, MIL-STD-2500C, defines a standard, extensible format for the transmission of imagery data within the military. The standard calls out several types of image compression compliant with the standard (such as JPEG). Telemetry ...


13

I will focus on meteorological satellites. They're a prime example of satellites that measure very large quantities of data (and one I have personal experience with). The bottom line is: they don't really compress the data, but they might degrade/limit it. A specific property of meteorological satellites is that the users want the data fast, so that could ...


11

All communications between spacecraft and Earth will be in digital form. Voyager Press Kit p.24


9

Another big reason is there simply isn't a need to do anything more powerful. There exist many applications on Earth where reliability is more important than speed. For instance, a vending machine contains a simple computer. You don't want that to crash and take your money. The vast majority of the processing used today by computers is in the graphical ...


7

Here is a list of some space probes that used FPGAs and how they were used. Mars Rover and Lander "main brain" of the rover vehicle, controlling the motors for the wheels, steering, arms, cameras and various instrumentation control the crucial pyrotechnic operations during the multi-phase descent and landing procedure Optus C1 Apply signal processing ...


5

From a standpoint of "reprogrammability" FPGAs don't hold any advantage over any other processor. You can update/modify software on any type of system whether it's x86 or FPGA or any other architecture. The advantage of FPGAs is their parallel nature, the ability to do many things at once, and act as a state machine rather than a linear sequence of ...


3

A couple of things I might add to the good answers already here: Selection timeframe. The decision as which hardware to use for a vehicle is made long before (years?) the vehicle is launched. Thus, at launch it is probably obsolete. Radiation hardening. Often, these comparisons focus on one or two specs that are interesting for terrestrial uses: CPU ...


2

Same thing happens in aviation as you've indentified for space technology. Major factors would be reliability, "hardness" and development time frames, but there are other considerations. Any life-critical system has to be trustworthy, and when you can't get at it to fix it if it breaks (like robotic space probes), reliability becomes paramount also. The ...


2

Selection Time: spacecraft are designed and built years prior to launch. The selected processor at build time, even if top of the line, will have been eclipsed by launch time. Vibration Tolerance: launch of spacecraft requires vibration tolerant computer systems; many newer processors are not yet rated at design time. Radiation Resistance: Smaller circuits ...


1

Interestingly, this does not apply to all spacecraft. The Flock satellites by Planet Labs are actually pretty cutting-edge as stated by one of the developers on The AmpHour podcast. In fact, the testing of new satellite designs was slowed down by the time it took to actually launch the satellites once they were manufactured. I suggest listening to the ...


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