The processor called RAD750 used in the Perseverance spacecraft is 23 years old, but it is far ahead of today’s processors in terms of reliability and sustainability.
23 years of technology went to space
We know that systems that are decades old are still in use, as their replacement and updating creates great risks or costs. For example, even if the standard support at ATM points ended, the Windows XP platform was used for a long time.
On the other hand, such systems are also found in NASA. We see that decades-old computer systems are used for sustainability, as upgrading and updating poses a great risk or takes a long time.
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The Perseverance exploration vehicle, whose landing on the Martian surface made a big impact, is also working on a 23-year-old processor. The vehicle’s RAD750 processor designed by BAE Systems is based on the PowerPC 750 processor.
The PowerPC 750 processor in the 1998 iMac G3 model had features such as a 233MHz single core, dynamic branching estimate, which is the basis for today, and 6 million transistors. Now, although these features seem very funny, it was at the forefront of efficiency at that time.
The biggest reason for using the RAD750 processor in the Perseverance vehicle is that the space environment is under very harsh conditions. Components to be used in the space environment must be durable due to intense radiation and sunlight. RAD750 processor is resistant to radiation between 200000-1000000 RAD and temperatures between -55-125 degrees. This processor is 200 thousand dollars each.
The answer to the question of whether a modern processor could be used instead of the RAD750 is no, because this type of special processor must have a special production process. In the current situation, this was not possible for NASA. Currently, about 100 satellites in space use the RAD750 processor and there has been no problem so far
Of course, NASA is planning more modern hardware for the future, and Boeing has received a tender for it. Studies continue for an ARM-based and special conditions-resistant multi-core space-oriented processor.
On the other hand, the helicopter in the reconnaissance vehicle is a more modern processor; It houses the Snapdragon 801 chipset. Since the decision was made on this processor at the beginning of the project, it was continued. However, it is stated that a Linux-based distribution is preferred because NASA does not support existing software.