Frontgrade's GR712RC Processor Runs CHEOPS' Instrument Flight Software

ARLINGTON, VIRG. – The first ESA S-class mission CHEOPS, which stands for CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, recently lifted off on a Soyuz rocket from Europe's spaceport in Kourou. The satellite contains one payload, a 32 cm diameter on-axis telescope. The Data Processing Unit (DPU) within the Back-End Electronics (BEE) of the telescope was built by the Space Research Institute (Institut für Weltraumforschung, IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Graz, Austria. The DPU is based on Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions’ Radiation-Hardened GR712RC LEON3FT Dual-Core Microprocessor. 

The CHEOPS DPU runs the instrument flight software, being responsible for the communication with the camera read-out electronics, and it performs the compression and packaging of telemetry data. The DPU will also process stellar images and help the spacecraft Attitude and Orbital Control Systems (AOCS) to improve the accuracy of the spacecraft pointing. Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions’ GR712RC microprocessor is the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of the DPU, with two fault-tolerant LEON3FT cores, and the necessary interfaces integrated to communicate with other parts of the spacecraft. The two LEON3FT cores are used in Asymmetric Multi-Processing (AMP) style, but only a single shared executable is run. As processor, the GR712RC was chosen because it already includes a MIL-STD-1553 bus interface, which is needed for the communication with the spacecraft (AS-250 platform). Internally in the instrument, the built-in SpaceWire interface is used to communicate with the camera detector unit.

“We have made very positive experience with the former single core LEON processors. The versatile interface standards and the performance provided by the GR712RC dual-core LEON3FT microprocessor convinced us to use the next generation for the CHEOPS instrument control unit,” said Manfred Steller, Group Leader, IWF.

As for all parts of the CHEOPS spacecraft, existing flight heritage is an important factor of the GR712RC for the mission. The GR712RC has recently been used successfully controlling the MASCOT asteroid lander, the Eu:CROPIS satellite, as well as in the CaSSIS instrument on the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter. In addition to the GR712RC dual-core LEON3FT microprocessor, Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions supported the CHEOPS mission with high reliability, radiation hardened low voltage differential signaling (LVDS) transceivers for serial interface circuits, MIL-STD-1553 transceivers, and high density memory solutions. These components ensure the CHEOPS’ spacecraft will compute, store and communicate in support of mission objectives.

“The GR712RC has quickly become the microprocessor of choice for instrument makers working on scientific missions. In addition to CHEOPS, the GR712RC will be used in most instruments on the upcoming ESA JUICE and ExoMars 2020 missions. The availability of two powerful fault-tolerant processor cores in combination with a plenitude of built-in interfaces, high level of radiation hardness, and all this at a very low power consumption, makes this system-on-chip solution ideal for instrumentation and control of small and medium sized satellites and probes,” said Kevin Jackson, vice president and general manager, semiconductor and space solutions for Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions.

As per European Space Agency (ESA), the CHEOPS mission has as main goal to characterize and study the structure of previously detected exoplanets, primarily of a range of size between Earth and Neptune. By targeting known planets, CHEOPS will know exactly when and where to point to catch the exoplanet as it transits across the disk of its host star. Its ability to observe multiple transits of each planet will enable scientists to achieve the high-precision transit signatures that are needed to measure the sizes of small planets. Additional measurements will enable science to determine the physical structure of planets, the presence of a significant atmosphere, and information about the energy flux in the atmosphere of the planet.

“For us at Chalmers it’s a source of pride to have both science and technology from Chalmers represented in ESA’s CHEOPS mission. By coordinating space research and technical innovation we can investigate our place in the universe in ways that benefit both scientific curiosity and our need for sustainable technological development”, said Elvire De Beck, assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology and coordinator for Chalmers Space Initiative.

The LEON processor technology was originally developed at Chalmers University of Technology by ESA staff that later started what became Cobham Gaisler, a product line within Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions based in Gothenburg, Sweden. The LEON processors technology has since evolved and included in components like the GR712RC microprocessor. It is therefore especially exciting that the CHEOPS space telescope will be used by scientists from Chalmers University of Technology to study exoplanets. A perfect example of core technology enabling science – all stemming from the same university in Gothenburg, Sweden.

About IWF
The Space Research Institute (Institut für Weltraumforschung, IWF) in Graz has focused on space plasmas, planetary atmospheres and exoplanets for 50 years. With about 100 staff members from 20 nations it is one of the largest institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, ÖAW). IWF develops and builds space-qualified instruments and analyzes and interprets the data returned by them. The institute's core engineering expertise is in building magnetometers and on-board computers, as well as in satellite laser ranging to satellites and space debris, which is performed at a station operated by IWF at the Lustbühel Observatory. In terms of science, IWF concentrates on dynamical processes in space plasma physics and on the upper atmospheres of planets and exoplanets.

About Chalmers
Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg conducts research and education in technology and natural sciences at a high international level. The university has 3100 employees and 10,000 students, and offers education in engineering, science, shipping and architecture. With scientific excellence as a basis, Chalmers promotes knowledge and technical solutions for a sustainable world. Through global commitment and entrepreneurship, we foster an innovative spirit, in close collaboration with wider society. The EU’s biggest research initiative – the Graphene Flagship – is coordinated by Chalmers. We are also leading the development of a Swedish quantum computer. Chalmers was founded in 1829 and has the same motto today as it did then: Avancez – forward.

About Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions
Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions (CAES) provides a number of mission-critical and specialized solutions for harsh environments. Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions supplies defense, aerospace, security, medical and industrial markets with critical solutions for communication on land, at sea, and in the air and space, by moving data through off-the-shelf and customized products and subsystems including RF, microwave, and high reliability microelectronics, antenna apertures and motion control solutions.