Shuttle launches BYU student-designed circuit into space

May 17, 2011
A chip like the one the team designed that is on board Endeavor, symbolized on the patch for this mission.

When the shuttle Endeavor launched  Monday morning there was a little bit of BYU on board. A BYU research team designed a highly specialized type of circuit that could improve the reliability of current NASA technology.

The launch attracted extra attention because it’s the second-to-last shuttle mission, and it is commanded by the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Congresswoman wounded in a shooting earlier this year.

Michael Wirthlin led the team that designed the circuit inside a chip known as a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). Such chips are unique because they can be programmed remotely.  This prevents time-consuming space walks where astronauts would have to work on hardware devices. All of the necessary work can be done from NASA command center on Earth.

“It is a really unique opportunity for our students to design a circuit that can go up in space,” said Wirthlin, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Those students will now evaluate the effectiveness of their circuit. It is very rare to participate in this whole process.”

Current graduate student William Howes was one of those students.

“It was definitely a great opportunity and something that not too many students have the chance to do,” Howes said. “To be able to tell others that there’s something in space that I designed is amazing. It has helped me a lot in searching for jobs and in my graduate degree.”

FPGAs have been used in space before. For example, the Mars Rover had older versions on board. The FPGAs that BYU is researching are much more powerful. They will be on the Endeavor for long-term data collection to see how they react to harsh conditions.

“For FPGAs, radiation is a problem,” Howes said. “If the FPGA gets hit in the wrong way, it could make the computation come out incorrect.”

Explore further: Scientists squeeze more than 1,000 cores on to computer chip

Related Stories

King of the (lunar) road

March 30, 2011

The University of Alabama in Huntsville’s moon buggy may not go from 0 to 60 in five seconds, but it can handle the lunar regolith like nobody’s business. And that’s no small feat, says mechanical and aerospace ...

UMaine students test wireless sensors on rocket

April 27, 2011

Five University of Maine students participated in a recent launch process as a rocket loaded with wireless sensors the students developed in a UMaine lab blasted off in California’s Mojave Desert.

Materials face ultimate test in space

April 29, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Mark Hersam of Northwestern University will be more interested than most Americans when the space shuttle Endeavour lifts off for the last time Friday, April 29. Six little pieces of himself and his research ...

Recommended for you

Ceres image: The lonely mountain

August 25, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers).

Dawn spacecraft sends sharper scenes from Ceres

August 25, 2015

The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures.

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.