ST launches rad-hard ICs for LEO satellites

10 March 2022
Nine devices have been launched for low earth orbit satellites with more devices to come in the coming months. Source: STMicroelectronics

European chipmaker ST Microelectronics has rolled out a series of radiation-hardened (rad-hard) power, analog and logic ICs with plastic packages for engineers to develop small, low-cost satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).

These satellites for LEO would be used to deliver services such as Earth observation and broadband internet.

The series of devices will include a data converter, a voltage regulator, a low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) transceiver, a line driver and five logic gates used in power generation and distribution, on-board computers, telemetry star trackers and transceivers. ST said it will roll out additional semiconductors to the series in the coming months.

“We are in a new era of space commercialization and democratization, commonly called New Space, which radically changes the economics of conceiving, building, launching, and operating satellites,” said Marcello San Biagio, general purpose and RF division general manager at ST. “These formerly low-volume, specialized space vehicles are quickly becoming commoditized for deployment in large constellations sometimes comprising several thousands of units.”

What are LEO satellites?

LEO satellites are those that are in a lower orbital rotation of the Earth and because of this receive more atmospheric protection and are exposed to lower levels of radiation than traditional satellites launched into higher Geostationary Earth Orbits.

However, these satellites are designed for shorter lifetimes than traditional satellites but historically are required to have the same level of performance and quality in electronic components as these satellites. These electronic components are typically housed in hermetically sealed ceramic packages resulting in a high cost for these parts.

ST said its LEO rad-hard plastic parts are optimized for production flows and economies of scale. Also, they require no additional qualification or up-screening from their users, eliminating significant cost and risk.

The rad-hard ICs feature a total ionization dose immunity up to 50 krad(Si), high immunity to total non-ionzing dose and single event latch-up (SEL) immunity up to 62.5 MeV.cm2/mg.

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