On January 19, 2006, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V rocket. The goal of this mission was to explore Pluto and the mysterious Kuiper Belt. If successful, the United States would be the first nation to complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system. But this was no ordinary journey. Discovered in 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh, Pluto is more than 2.9 billion miles from earth, has an elliptical orbit and takes 248 years to circle the sun. Since its discovery, Pluto has only traversed thirty five percent of its full orbit. As a result, scientists did not have a complete set of measurements to confirm its exact position when New Horizons reached its destination. Based on their calculations with this limited data, they predicted a fly-by in summer, 2015, nine and a half years after launch.
NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft
Mission Critical Integrated Circuit
AMI Semiconductor (acquired by ON Semiconductor in 2008) played a vital role in the development of the New Horizons spacecraft. AMIS produced a Rad Hardened by Design (RHBD) Error Detection & Correction (EDAC) Coder/Decoder (Codec) for ICs LLC, a leading rad hard design solutions company. The EDAC integrated circuit (IC) provides data fault protection against radiation effects and other environmental noise for the spacecraft’s solid state memory recording device. Without this critical component, data retrieved could be corrupt or lost, rendering the project a failure. The IC design began in 1995 and used the AMIS 1-micron CMOS process. In order to achieve the radiation immunity required for deep space exploration, ICs applied RHBD techniques during the design phase. Manufactured in 1997, the IC passed space qualification testing in early 1998 and shipped to NASA engineers. There the chip was integrated into the space vehicle and underwent extensive testing prior to the 2006 launch. These tests were essential to ensure that New Horizons could survive it’s nearly decade long excursion.
ON Semiconductor & ICs, LLC Rad Hard Solutions
Today ON Semiconductor and ICs, LLC continue to design and manufacture Space, Aerospace and Hi-Reliability Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) that meet the harsh radiation environments for a variety of applications. By combining advanced design and process techniques using the ON Semiconductor commercial 110 nm digital ASIC flow, customers benefit from reduced design and manufacturing cycle times and superior pricing.
Success! New Horizons Reaches Pluto
On July 14, 2015, the space probe passed within 7,800 miles of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf plant. Less than twenty-four hours later, NASA received data and images to confirm its success. The first stunning photos reveled ice mountains as high as 11,000 feet, comparable to the height of the Rockies. Over the next several months, scientists will process and analyze data captured during this historic event. Based on first impressions, this is sure to be a spectacular revelation.
First detailed images shows ice mountains the size of the Rockies
About New Horizons
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. During the nine and a half year flight, it traveled over three billion miles that included a close encounter with Jupiter in 2007. New Horizons is in excellent condition, and Alan Stern, the principal investigator of New Horizons, says the spacecraft has enough power to continue into the mid 2030s. By that time, it will be nearly 9.3 billion miles from the sun. NASA has yet to decide if they will fund New Horizons beyond 2015.
To learn more:
Johns Hopkins University New Horizons
NASA New Horizons
Image Credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration/www.nasa.gov