Home |  Directory |  Search |  GET LISTED! | Services | Advertise? | FAQ | Link to Us | Contact
Your country: United States
Category: Embedded Business News

Microchip in Space - NASA Releases SuitSat-1 with PIC18 Microcontroller

By Bill Giovino, Executive Editor Microcontroller.com
Feb 16, 2006 - 11:11:00 PM

Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.
Email this page

Post to LinkedIn ReTweet This Share on Facebook del.icio.us Yahoo! MyWeb Digg StumbleUpon reddit   

Subscribe to this RSS feed!

What does "product end of life" mean to you?

"Goodbye, Mr. Smith" - SuitSat-1 is released!
Movie is 9Meg, please be patient while it loads...
Well, if you're an astronaut in the International Space Station (ISS), and you've got an out of date spacesuit, it's an opportunity to have a little fun.

Unlike some systems, equipment used on the Space Station isn't left around until failure - especially something as life-critical as a spacesuit. So, engineers at NASA got together with Applications Engineers at Microchip and SuitSat-1 was born.

Yes, SuitSat-1. On February 3 2006, NASA, in cooperation with Microchip Technology, pushed an end-of-life Orlan spacesuit out the pod bay door... uh, I mean the ISS airlock - and let it gently float in Earth's orbit.  But first, they added a few cool attachments.

See, a year before the launch of SuitSat-1, Steve Bible, an Applications Engineer at Microchip Technology, got a call from his old friend and retired NASA engineer Lou McFidan. Lou explained to Steve that a Russian Orlan spacesuit on the ISS had reached it's operational end-of-life in Feb 2004, and the fellas at NASA were throwing around a few ideas about what they could do to have some fun with the spacesuit. One of the ideas being seriously considered was just throwing the suit out - out of an airlock - with a radio and some sensors to record items like the suit's temperature, the battery voltage, and the mission elapsed time. It was agreed that some sort of embedded systems board would be needed to manage and control the data.

And so, when Lou at NASA asked his friend Steve at Microchip, "Can a PIC microcontroller be used for this application?", Steve replied with a resounding, "Yes!".

l. to r: Steve Bible, SuitSat-1, Joe Julicher
l. to r: Steve Bible, SuitSat-1, Joe Julicher
Steve recruited another Microchip veteran, Principle Applications Engineer Joe Julicher, to assist in the development of the SuitSat controller board. The controller board uses a Microchip PIC18F8722 microcontroller, MCP9800 temperature sensor, and MCP6022 opamps.  Voice messages from children around the world were digitized and placed in the microcontroller's Flash memory, and the sounds transmitted over amateur radio.  The controller also calls out telemetry using a digitized voice encoded in ADPCM that voices the suit's temperature, battery voltage, and mission elapsed time. The PIC18's ECCPWM timer module is responsible for synthesizing the encoded data into audio, which is then fed to the radio. Students all over the world can listen to these greetings from space using a simple amateur FM radio tuned to 145.990 MHz.

Microchip in Space - NASA Releases SuitSat-1 with PIC18 Microcontroller
While Steve and Joe could not radiation harden the electronics, they did test the controller board in it's die cast aluminum box down to a chilling -40°C. As you will see in the photo, all the electronics fit inside the Suit with a switch box and antenna fitted to the helmet (at no time was the phrase "Borg implants" used). Exposed to the fierce rays of the sun, the suit's environmental controls are turned off to conserve battery power.

The controller PCB and switch box were designed and assembled at Microchip.  The radio and antenna was designed and developed by volunteers in Florida.  The complete SuitSat Flight integration was completed at Microchip's laboratory in Arizona in June.  Two complete flight units were delivered to NASA in Houston Texas, USA and then were shipped to Russia.  There it underwent certification testing and final flight integration.

As one astronaut cheerfully called out, "Good-bye, Mister Smith", SuitSat-1 was placed into orbit on Feb 3, 2006 at 5:02PM U.S. Central Time.

SuitSat transmits for 30 seconds, pauses for 30 seconds, and then repeats. "This is SuitSat-1, RS0RS" the transmission begins, followed by prerecorded greetings in five languages. The greeting contains "special words" in English, French, Japanese, Russian, German and Spanish for students to record and decipher. Awards will be given to students who successfully decipher the message.

The next message details SuitSat's telemetry data: temperature, battery power and mission elapsed time. The transmission ends with a slow scan television picture.

The lifespan for the suit's three batteries was estimated to be at least three days. The orbit is expected to decay after 3-6 weeks after which the suit should safely burn up in the atmosphere.

(editor's note: while SuitSat's three batteries were expected to be good for three days from it's Feb 3rd launch, at the time of this article SuitSat is still dutifully transmitting it's signal)


© Microcontroller.com. All Rights Reserved.

Microchip in Space - NASA Releases SuitSat-1 with PIC18 Microcontroller

This Article has been seen 45382 times

Product data and specifications in this article are the responsibility of the manufacturer. No warrenty is expressed or implied as to the accuracy of manufacturer-supplied data. So there.
Embedded Systems News- Latest Headlines
·X-FAB Doubles 6-Inch SiC Foundry Capacity
·Microchip Introduces SAM-L10 and SAM-L11 Microcontrollers with TrustZone and picoPower
·X-FAB Introduces New Galvanic Isolation Technology
·Look! Up in the Sky! Its an Autonomous Vehicle!
·X-FAB Becomes First Semiconductor Foundry to Achieve IATF-16949 Automotive Quality Certification
·Microchip PIC32MZ Flash Microcontroller is the World's Fastest 32-bit MCU
·Microchip PIC24F KM Webinar
·Choosing A Microcontroller Architecture Part 1
·New Atmel SAMD20 Cortex-M0+ Microcontrollers
·Silicon Labs Buys Energy Micro
·Zilog Buys Microcontroller Product Lines from Samsung
·Texas Instruments introduces new Tiva ARM Cortex-M4 Microcontrollers
·You Might Be an Engineer If
·Microchip and Digilent Bring Arduino to PIC32 Microcontrollers
·Atmel SAMA5D3 has Lots of Power and Linux Development
·The Good Ol Days of Semiconductors Part 2
·Renesas RL78-G14 Microcontroller Demo Kit is a Neat Tool Toy
·National Semiconductor - the Good Ol Days of Semis
·Microchip Introduces MPLAB XC32++ Free PIC32 C++ Compiler
·Freescale Kinetis L-Series Based on ARM Cortex-M0+ Core

Technical Writing Services

Creative Technical Writing services offered. Easygoing, experienced professional looking for clients.

Looking for an experienced technical writer to capture your target audience? A writer that is comfortable meeting your schedule and can be trusted with your business objectives?

Writing is like golf; most people can do it, but few can do it proficiently and professionally.


Home |  Directory |  Search |  GET LISTED! | Services | Advertise? | FAQ | Link to Us | Contact