Rad-Hard ARM Microcontrollers, Because Ceramic Components Are Just Cooler

If you’re building a cubesat, great, just grab a microcontroller off the shelf, you probably don’t need to worry about radiation hardening. If you’re building an experiment for the ISS, just use any old microcontroller. Deep space? That’s a little harder, and you might need to look into radiation tolerant and radiation hardened microcontrollers. Microchip has just announced the release of two micros that meet this spec, in both radiation-tolerant and radiation-hardened varieties.

The new devices are the SAMV71Q21RT (radiation-tolerant) and the SAMRH71 (rad-hard), both ARM Cortex-M7 chips running at around 300 MHz with enough RAM to do pretty much anything you would want to do with a microcontroller. Peripherals include CAN-FD and Ethernet-AVB, analog front-end controllers, and the usual support for I2C, SPI, and other standards. This chip does it in space, and comes in a ceramic quad flat package with gold lead frames. These are beautiful devices.

Microchip has an incredible number of space-rated, rad-hard hardware; this is mostly due to their acquisition of Atmel a few years ago, and yes, it absolutely is possible to build a rad-hard Arduino Mega using the chip, space rated.

Of course, there are very, very, very few people who would actually ever need a rad-hard microcontroller; I would honestly expect this to be relevant to only one or two people reading this, and they too probably got the press release. If you’ve ever wanted to build something that goes to space, and you’d like to over-engineer everything about it, you now have the option for an ARM Cortex-M7.

Atmel Introduces Rad Hard Microcontrollers

The Internet is full of extremely clever people, and most of the time they don’t realize how stupid they actually are. Every time there’s a rocket launch, there’s usually a few cubesats tucked away under a fairing. These cubesats were designed and built by university students around the globe, so whenever a few of these cubesats go up, Internet armchair EEs inevitably cut these students down: “That microcontroller isn’t going to last in space. There’s too much radiation. It’ll be dead in a day,” they say. This argument disregards the fact that iPods work for months aboard the space station, Thinkpads work for years, and the fact that putting commercial-grade microcontrollers in low earth orbit has been done thousands of times before with mountains of data to back up the practice.

For every problem, imagined or not, there’s a solution. Now, finally, Atmel has released a rad tolerant AVR for space applications. It’s the ATmegaS128, the space-grade version of the ‘mega128. This chip is in a 64-lead ceramic package, has all the features you would expect from the ATmega128¬†and is, like any ‘mega128, Arduino compatible.

Atmel has an oddly large space-rated rad-hard portfolio, with space-grade FPGAs, memories, communications ICs, ASICs, memories, and now microcontrollers in their lineup.

While microcontrollers that aren’t radiation tolerant have gone up in cubesats and larger commercial birds over the years, the commercial-grade stuff is usually reserved for low Earth orbit stuff. For venturing more than a few hundred miles above the Earth, into the range of GPS satellites and to geosynchronous orbit 25,000 miles above, radiation shielding is needed.

Will you ever need a space-grade, rad-hard Arduino? Probably not. This new announcement is rather cool, though, and we can’t wait for the first space grade Arduino clone to show up in the Hackaday tips line.