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Aside form the "buy really costly NASA stuff" solution, what can be done about running a system in high radiation environments like space? (This is mostly a thought experiment.)

Known Issues primarily amount to data errors:

  1. main memory
  2. cache ram and CPU internal state
  3. HDD

What can be done about these?

My thoughts include

  • Use EEC Ram
  • Shield the CPU and cache with tungsten because it's a good conductor and IIRC a good radiation shield.
  • Use RAID 5 (or RAID 6) disks with some sort of hacked setup to correct errors in place rather than just writing off the whole disk as bad.
  • Use ROM disks built out of sold state HDDs with the flash chips replaced with ROMs or just a stack of CD/DVD/HDDVD drives.

Note: I'm not just thinking of embedded system. I'm also interested in high end system right on up to supercomputers if anyone has any info of them.

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haev you tried tiny tinfoil hats? ;-) –  Steven A. Lowe May 25 '09 at 20:13
@Steven A. Lowe: IIRC aluminum is good shielding from EM but not other forms of radiation . –  BCS May 25 '09 at 20:31

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

For "on the cheap", meaning "relatively economical", I turned my search to Amateur Radio. They fly satellites at a fraction of the cost. Put "AMSAT" in your search. I found this in an article at codec.org.

  • "AMSAT satellites are generally firmware-free, lacking even a boot ROM! They use a hardware circuit, without the assistance of software, to initially load their computer RAM from a ground data stream."

  • Certain RAM technologies cannot be used. Those with charge pumps, for example.

  • Error-correcting systems (extra bits and CRC's)

  • "They continuously "wash" the RAM by reading it, checking it against the CRC, and writing the information back to correct for radiation-induced errors. Without this activity, the computer onboard a space vehicle would not survive."

  • "Many modern microprocessors would not execute reliably in the radiation environment. AMSAT uses a special radiation-hard silicon-on-sapphire version of the CDP-1802 CPU designed in the late 1970's as its main control computer. They experimented with the StrongARM SA-1100 chip" (but it doesn't state results of that experiment).

Don't forget that an "HDD" is going to have a CPU and RAM on its own controller!

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Right to the point. Nice. –  dmckee May 25 '09 at 19:21
Do you have the link for the article its self? Points 2-5 are good, but #1 only applies to booting, and if you need to reboot in space you have Problems (at least under the type of use I'm thinking of)! –  BCS May 25 '09 at 19:45

If you're talking about a fairly accessible environment (like an accelerator end-station hall) and a fairly low impact system, you just do lots of verification and complain when it fails, then you try a reboot followed by a field circus.

If it is a little less accessible, you add redundancy and fail-over.

After that it starts to get expensive.

The problem with shielding is that for high energy gamma and electron progenitors a little shielding can make things worse! And neutrons are generally hard to shield. You don't even want to talk about muons.

A space environment means cosmic rays which means multi GeV protons. Yuck.

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