CompactPCI continues in the cosmos - Interview with Vic Scuderi, BAE Systems

Vic Scuderi of BAE Systems explains why CompactPCI is such a stellar space technology.

2When the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars this August, CompactPCI, AdvancedTCA, and MicroTCA Systems got specifics on the 3U CompactPCI SBCs operating inside the Rover Computational Element (RCE) from satellite electronics veteran Vic Scuderi of BAE Systems. For a more detailed look at the aerospace industry, we have tapped Vic again for perspectives on CompactPCI's use in satellite design and what to expect from it in the space market moving forward.

CPCI: How long has BAE Systems been using CompactPCI for aerospace applications, and what were the reasons for its original deployment?

SCUDERI: BAE Systems began using CompactPCI in the late 1990s, as the VME standard was just not keeping up with the speeds required at the I/O level. PCI was the most popular desktop computer interface at the time, and CompactPCI moved that interface from the desktop to the embedded world.

CPCI: What has kept CompactPCI a viable COTS technology in the aerospace market?

SCUDERI: CompactPCI has remained viable because of the long qualification and acceptance process for any hardware used in a satellite design. For example, the connectors have been qualified extensively and represent a key element of demonstrating to our customers that critical mechanical interfaces are solid and well understood. The terms “flight heritage” or Technology Readiness Level (TRL) provide a measure of confidence and a measure of (low) risk if these elements have performed over time in space. Time in space is a factor for any piece of hardware to maintain its “momentum of acceptance” in the customer community. This is true for our space customers in the military, commercial, and civil markets. CompactPCI is a proven space technology.

A second reason is that the bandwidth between boards has grown much slower in the space community than in the rest of the embedded processor world. Thus, CompactPCI bandwidth has been sufficient for most applications and only now is starting to be challenged by fabric-based interfaces.

CPCI: In the satellite industry in particular, is CompactPCI seeing more action at the board or system level? What are the military/aerospace applications that utilize CompactPCI technology today?

SCUDERI: CompactPCI has become a de facto standard for most satellite manufacturers. Our ASICs supporting our RAD750 Single Board Computers (SBCs) all assume CompactPCI to be used within the boxes being designed. I can only say that CompactPCI technologies are extensively used on military satellites.

Figure 1: The RAD750 3U and 6U CompactPCI SBCs continue to be a staple of BAE Systems satellite design.

CPCI: What is the remaining projected lifespan of CompactPCI in the space community? Do recent prospects of sequestration have any effect on this?

SCUDERI: We expect CompactPCI to be used in all satellite markets through at least 2020. Sequestration does not have any effect on this. It is strictly the performance to-date of a proven (satellite) industry standard. In our current environment, there are fewer new system designs and more copies of previous, older designs. This means more opportunities to use the existing CompactPCI standard products.

CPCI: Do you see possibilities for the adoption of newer CompactPCI technologies such as CompactPCI Serial?

SCUDERI: We anticipate a shift to standards with significantly higher throughput to handle fabric-based and Gb transmission rates. Serial RapidIO, along with SpaceWire, is the front runner in the space community, but other interface standards are being evaluated.

Vic Scuderi is Business Area Manager of Satellite Electronics at BAE Systems.

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