IBM Power Architecture, BAE RAD6000 to Explore Mars

IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced that Power Architecture will make a return to outer space as NASA plans to launch the Phoenix Mars Lander, its most sophisticated probe to date. The lander will head to the polar north of Mars where it will dig into the frozen surface in search of the building blocks of life. This probe will be outfitted with a radiation-hardened RAD6000 computer by BAE Systems and based on Power Architecture. As the “brains” of the space craft, the RAD6000 will process navigational data and drive key systems both in space and on the planet surface.

The program cost for the Phoenix launch is $420 million dollars and launch opportunities come only once every 26 months. Once on the surface, Phoenix will endure temperatures down to -100 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speeds of up to 40 meters per second. It is critical that all systems run smoothly throughout the mission. The RAD6000′s proven ability to withstand the rigors of space and open architecture programmable from workstations to supercomputers, make it an ideal platform for the 423 million mile journey.

“We are honored that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected Power Architecture and the BAE Systems RAD6000 to be an integral part of a mission that may answer the age old question; could life exist on another planet,” said Raj Desai, vice president IBM Global Engineering Solutions, “With Power-based processors in all three major game consoles, in fifty percent of automobile models worldwide, in sixty percent of the world’s fastest computers, and in one hundred percent of the systems on Mars, Power is truly the most versatile computing platform in the solar system.”

Power Architecture and the red planet
In 2003 NASA launched the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers toward Mars to see if water, a key building block of life as we understand it, was ever present on the planet. The mission, originally planned for 90 days continues to this day transmitting an unprecedented amount of data and stunning photos back to earth.

The key instruments on both rovers relied on a single board computer built with a 32-bit Power Architecture licensed to BAE Systems by IBM and a RAD6000 processor radiation hardened by BAE systems.

“We selected Power Architecture as the most amenable architecture for space-based missions,” said Vic Scuderi, space product manager for BAE Systems. “Experience bears out that choice, as the space community has accepted the RAD6000 as the workhorse for space computer applications.”

Surviving windstorms with speeds of up to 80 miles per hour and temperatures of -199 degrees Fahrenheit, Power, once radiation hardened, has become the de facto standard for space qualified processors.

About the Mars Phoenix Lander mission
The launch of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander is scheduled for Saturday, August 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch will be broadcast live with streaming video on the Web and coverage on NASA TV.