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Ozark ICs develops 500°C PDK for Venus exploration

Posted: 05 Aug 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NASA  Venus  Ozark IC  Venus  MCU 

When asked what the key ingredients were to successfully building the 500°C chips, Mantooth said: "There are several key ingredients. The first is a process that has a base semiconductor plus oxides and metallisation that can withstand this temperature extreme. We are designing in silicon carbide with special oxides and metals. Next, is having good device models coupled with temperature compensated design methods. We have extended the FET models over temperature using some of our patented temperature scaling methods so that we can predict device performance to very high temperatures. Even so, we must design references and biasing circuits that are temperature compensated using techniques that help to mitigate too much variation over temperature. Properties surely vary at these high temperatures, but remain in regimes where circuits still operate within expected boundaries."

Ozark IC, which holds 80 patents on both cryogenic cold and ultra-hot ICs, is working with Mantooth's team at the University of Arkansas to prove-the-concept for the chips that will operate outside of the cool-box, which NASA hopes to maximise, since the size of the cool-box should be as small as possible to save on the power budget needed to keep it cool.

"There are several possibilities including high temperature data converters, memory, logic and sensor signal processing circuits. So, this involves analogue and digital circuitry," Mantooth added. "This project is focused on a high temperature MCU for in-situ instruments and systems. Our initial work will ascertain the bit-width, 8 to 32, of this MCU for 500°C operations. Of course, part of this activity is memory design too."

Once the team fabricates the proof-of-concept yet chips, defines the PDKs and estimates the costs of building them, NASA will decide who fabricates the actual chips aboard the Venus Landsailing Rover.

"Ozark IC has the possibility of designing actual chips aboard the Venus Rover, but the University of Arkansas team is unlikely to do so," Mantooth stated. "We have been developing models, design kits, and design methods that will likely get transferred to typical NASA contractors such as Boeing and BAE Systems, who then utilise this information to design the actual hardware. It is possible that a company such as Ozark IC could be contracted by one of these 'big boys' to perform design of actual chips, but most likely not my University of Arkansas team. At best we might consult."

The University of Arkansas also has expertise in low- and high-temperature IC packaging at its High Density Electronics Research Centre where the high-voltages needed for high-temperature electronics, and the interconnects both on-chip and between chips and boards have been already been designed, modelled and characterised for circuits up to 350°C, which will now be extended to 500°C.

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times Europe


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