BAE Systems' 3U CompactPCI SBC at Home on Mars in Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity rover landed on Mars late Sunday evening after traveling 36 weeks and across a 352 million mile expanse of space. Now safely at the base of Gale Crater on the Red Planet, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will begin a two-year scientific expedition powered not by boosters and rocket fuel, but by the Rover Computational Element (RCE) and CompactPCI Single Board Computers (SBCs).

The RCE, the brains of Curiosity, is comprised of two identical third generation BAE Systems RAD750 3U CompactPCI SBCs. At only 549 grams, the IBM PowerPC 750-based units have a radiation tolerance greater than 100 KRAD and are latch-up immune to withstand the extreme radiation, temperature, and other environmental conditions of space, with one of the elements acting in a backup capacity in the event of a power-off cycle.

The onboard memory of the RAD750 3U SBC includes 128 MB of SDRAM for storing video and data for the 14-minute-plus transmission to Earth. The board runs Wind River’s VxWorks Operating System (OS), and is capable of 290 MIPS for compute-intensive activities conducted by the MSL.

“[The] JPL has selected the BAE Systems 3U and 6U RAD750 computers for a variety of reasons,” commented Vic Scuderi, business area manager of satelite electronics at BAE Systems. “We know that the RAD750 ran navigation algorithms for the trip to Mars, handled the critical “7 minutes of terror” of the landing, and will be reprogrammed to run the science data processing programs once Curiosity gets down to the business of science on the surface of Mars.”

RAD750s have now been leveraged in both 3U and 6U CompactPCI form factors for control or payload processing applications in 30 different space satellites and missions. Including all three generations of BAE Systems rad-hard processors, 664 computers are now being used in 220 satellites deployed in space.

“We have designed and produced all these computers with the support and funding from our NASA and DOD partners such as JPL, NASA Goddard, AFRL, DTRA and DARPA to name but a few. We thank them for selecting the RAD750 to be used on these exciting national programs.”