Computing and shielding startups join forces to put AI-capable chips in space

Spacecraft often rely on outdated computing systems, such as the PowerPC 750 used in the Perseverance rover, which was commonly found in late 1990s iMacs. This is set to change with the advent of more advanced systems like the AetherNxN computer, developed by San Francisco-based Aethero. This computer, which will be protected by a new radiation shielding material called Plasteel, is scheduled to launch this month on SpaceX’s Transporter-11 mission.

The protection of electronics in space currently comes from physical shielding, using materials like aluminum and tantalum, and radiation hardening, which involves designing electronics to be more resistant to radiation exposure. The AetherNxN computer is radiation-hardened, but Aethero’s collaboration with Cosmic Shielding Corporation (CSC) aims to improve its performance under hostile space conditions by adding CSC’s new radiation shielding material, Plasteel.

Plasteel is a 3D printed polymer blend with radiation-blocking nanoparticles, which offers more flexibility and versatility than traditional shielding materials. It has already been used on missions with Axiom Space and Quantum Space. CSC’s shielding not only reduces the overall dose of radiation received by the computer, but it is also more effective at preventing “single event effects,” where a single ionizing particle damages or affects an electronic circuit in space.

Both Aethero and CSC believe that next-generation shielding technologies are crucial for bringing advanced, complex processors to space. Aethero anticipates its primary market to be edge processing for Earth observation data, enabling autonomous identification of interesting objects. However, both companies see a new era of deep space exploration being facilitated by advanced edge computing in space.

In the words of CSC co-founder and CEO Yanni Barghouty, “Nothing this fast, from an AI standpoint, has ever been launched into space. So having this work as it does is literally bringing Moore’s law into space.”

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