Michigan State University in East Lansing has launched a Space Electronics Center — part of the College of Engineering and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB — that will design and test devices and systems for space applications.
Texas Instruments (TI) is among the early supporters of the center and has worked closely with the FRIB team on some of its first electronics testing sessions. TI designs and manufactures semiconductors and various integrated circuits to sell to electronics designers and manufacturers globally.
In addition, the company provides analog and embedded processing products in an array of packaging materials, and has developed integrated circuits for space for more than 60 years.
MSU Foundation Professor John Papapolymerou, who chairs the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says the MSU Space Electronics Center will focus on electronic circuits and systems that are less susceptible to damage from exposure to the ionizing radiation typically present in space.
“With the growing number of commercial space-based communication systems and related applications, such as low-latency, low-cost worldwide internet coverage, we’re interested in the holistic design, development, and testing of space electronics,” Papapolymerou says.
Michigan State and Texas Instruments have collaborated in the past, with TI sponsoring senior capstone projects in the College of Engineering for the past several years. TI also is represented on the advisory board of MSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Building on the existing relationship, the Space Electronics Center will explore how electronics will perform in space without leaving Earth.
“We’re testing how well circuits will perform in space. TI offers us the best of two worlds — a chance to explore both the technical and physical performance of the devices we’re working with,” Papapolymerou says.
Over the next 10 years, the number of satellites launched into space will increase exponentially, says Mark Roberts, senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing at Texas Instruments and an MSU electrical engineering graduate.
“This growth fuels the need for a higher volume of diverse, space-grade electrical components that enable satellites, all of which need to undergo stringent radiation testing to operate reliably in space,” says Roberts.
“Testing capacity in the aerospace and defense industry is an ongoing challenge, with only a few facilities in the world offering single-event effect testing. As one of the founding members, we believe that Michigan State University’s Space Electronics Center will make a positive impact in the industry and broaden the space electronics ecosystem.”
Papapolymerou says the center will provide industry and government representatives with opportunities for interaction and collaboration with MSU faculty, students, and researchers. Activities will include research projects, workforce development, technical workshops, and forums for small corporate delegations to have a presence on MSU’s campus.
Along with space electronics-related research and development activities, another priority at the new center will be preparing a workforce for the future.
“Educating and training tomorrow’s highly needed workers in space electronics and affiliated science and engineering areas will be of great importance. The center opens opportunities that are both brand new and very different for our undergraduate and graduate students,” Papapolymerou adds.
For example, Dimash Aimurzayev, a master’s student in electrical engineering at MSU, spent this past summer at TI performing space radiation tests on electronic circuits and will now continue this work in East Lansing. To him, the opening of the Space Electronics Center represents a milestone that puts the university at the forefront of space-sector research and development.
“We’re working on making devices more sustainable, and that’s where FRIB is so important,” Aimurzayev says. “Fifteen minutes of acceleration research at FRIB equals 150 years in space. The radiation-hardened circuits will perform well for a long time, and it’s happening just as the commercial space electronics market is booming.”
Papapolymerou says there is potential for commercialization of developed technology with industry members and startup companies.
“Our collective goal will be for this new center to be a premier site in the U.S. and around the world for space electronics research and training. We look forward to welcoming other partners like TI to our center,” Papapolymerou says.