Artist's illustration using binary numbers

NASA and other federal agencies will soon have access to the technology for a radiation-hardened version of Intel's Pentium chip for use in future missions.

Intel Corp. announced today that it will provide a royalty- free license for its Pentium processor design to the Department of Energy for the development of custom-made microprocessors for space and defense purposes. The agreement provides the government with a ten-fold increase in processing power over the highest- performing currently available radiation-hardened chips. Radiation hardening is required to shield systems and applications from radiation, such as cosmic rays, which affect the reliability of conventional electronics.

"The successful development of this new chip will bring advanced computing capability to our missions in deep space where the radiation environment is much too severe for commercial devices," said Dr. Edward C. Stone, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.

NASA's Deep Space Systems Technology Development Program, known as X2000, will serve as one of several Department of Energy partners to develop chip applications, in this case applications specific to future NASA missions. The program is intended to develop and deliver advanced spacecraft systems and avionics technologies to missions bound for different destinations in the solar system and beyond.

"High-performance radiation-hardened processors will enable many future space missions, both deep space and Earth-orbiting," said Dr. Leon Alkalai, head of JPL's Center for Integrated Space Microsystems, an element of the X2000 program. "This technology is cross-cutting within all of NASA's enterprises, including space science, Earth science, aeronautics, and human exploration and development of space."

In a ceremony at Intel's headquarters in Santa Clara, CA, Intel said it would license the chip design to Sandia National Laboratories, the U.S. Department of Energy's lead facility for microelectronics research and development. Sandia will develop a custom radiation-hardened version of the Pentium processor for use in satellites, space vehicles and defense systems. A key goal of the agreement is the eventual transition of the technology into the commercial radiation-hardened semiconductor fabrication industry.

The Pentium processor redesign effort will involve several government agencies and laboratories that are expected to use the increased computing power for a variety of applications. JPL, the Department of Energy, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the National Reconnaissance Office are the initial institutions with applications for future use. Among those applications will be Earth satellites, space probes, radiation environments on Earth, missile defense and advanced military systems.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

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