A five-year project led by the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a novel approach to space electronics that could change how space vehicles and instruments are designed.

The new capabilities are based on silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology, which can produce electronics that are highly resistant to both wide temperature variations and space radiation.

The project was funded by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“The team's overall task was to develop an end-to-end solution for NASA — a tested infrastructure that includes everything needed to design and build extreme-environment electronics for space missions,” said John Cressler, who is a Ken Byers Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Cressler served as principal investigator for the project.

A paper on the project findings will appear in December in IEEE Transactions on Device and Materials Reliability, 2010. SiGe alloys combine silicon with germanium at nanoscale dimensions.

The result is a robust material that offers important gains in toughness, speed and flexibility.

Crucial robustness

That robustness is crucial to silicon-germanium's ability to function in space without bulky radiation shields or large, power-hungry temperature control devices. Compared to conventional approaches, SiGe electronics can provide major reductions in weight, size, complexity, power and cost, as well as increased reliability and adaptability, according to a Georgia Institute of Technology press release.