For long duration space missions beyond LEO, the complexity of the missions and the latency of communications with Earth will require HPC systems that would be prohibitively expensive if qualified under traditional guidelines for high reliability space systems. There is a wealth COTS hardware that could potentially be used for HPC systems for non-critical tasks within heavily shielded spacecraft cabins. To employ COTS systems for such missions, we propose to use a simulation/experimental method to screen, test, and validate that the systems of interest are suitable for Cis-Lunar and Cis-Mars missions. The simulation component will make use of Monte Carlo N-Particle transport codes to study the secondary radiation environment within the spacecraft, the damage potential to COTS electronics, and the benefits of polyethylene-like shielding materials to protect COTS electronics. The experimental component will bombard functioning HPC COTS electronic samples with/without shielding using the AAMU Pelletron accelerator facilities. At the completion of Phase I we expect this approach will elucidate precautionary techniques to enhance reliability and performance, and to develop radiation shielding strategies and materials to protect the COTS electronics. The Phase II program will refine and standardize the simulation techniques, will test a wider array of HPC electronics, both in quantity and category, and most importantly explore the techniques for conducting accelerated radiation bombardment of the HPC electronics. This is a necessary step in creating a responsive and timely qualification process. In Phase II we will also build a database to contain the data on the critical characteristics of the test articles, the test conditions, the test results, the failure modes, and the associated results of the simulated predictions. This will enable an ever-greater number of future missions to more efficiently identify the COTS HPC electronics that can meet the mission requirements.
The proposed investigation addresses the very real need for HPC and complex electronics in general in planned and future spacecraft. With the unfolding of human missions beyond LEO to the Moon and Mars, the need for computing power for non-critical tasks within heavily shielded spacecraft cabins will only increase. What our team proposes is a process based on a combination of simulation and testing to enable the deployment of COTS HPCs in space environments that are already heavily shielded.
SA will market to COTS HPC manufacturers interested in pre-qualifying their hardware for radiation resistance in non-critical applications within heavily shielded spacecraft cabins. This will grant them a competitive advantage into the nascent private space industry, so it is not unreasonable to predict growth of sophisticated COTS electronics that will push to enter this new business segment.