Team develops optocoupler for spaceflight applications

February 6, 2019, Southwest Research Institute
SwRI is integrating its optocoupler power conversion technology into three instruments bound for Jupiter’s moon Europa. The radiation-hardened, high-reliability device, developed with internal funding, overcomes problems similar systems have had operating in space. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

Southwest Research Institute has developed a high-reliability, high-voltage optocoupler for spaceflight applications. NASA has selected the device as a power interface between the Europa Clipper spacecraft and three instruments aboard, bound for Jupiter's moon Europa in the next five years. The power converter, developed with internal funding, overcomes reliability problems similar systems have had operating in space.

An optocoupler, also known as an opto-isolator, transfers between two isolated circuits using light, in this case an array of LED sources. The SwRI device enables 15 kilovolts of isolated, low-voltage control for instruments operating at up to 10.5 kV.

"Operating in conditions from -40° to 100° Celsius, our is ruggedized to withstand the rigors of launch and adverse radiation conditions in space," said Carlos Urdiales, a senior program manager in SwRI's Space Science and Engineering Division. "In addition to being able to withstand the radiation environment around Jupiter, our optocoupler is fast, stepping from 0 to 10 kilovolts in 23.4 microseconds. The half-inch package weighs less than 4 grams and has a radiation tolerance in excess of 100 kilorads."

The high-quality device offers high reliability and long life in a relatively small footprint, which is critical for space applications. The optocoupler is being integrated into the MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration (MASPEX), the Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) and the SUrface Dust Analyser (SUDA) instruments for the Europa Clipper mission. SwRI's optocoupler will help power astrobiology examinations to understand the moon's subsurface sea and potential habitability as well as characterization of its atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere.

"SwRI can configure the device to suit a range of applications," Urdiales said. "We deliver increased reliability through redundancy in the high-current 2 Amp LED array, which provides a lightning fast stepping rate."

In addition to resisting radiation damage, the LED array inhibits "zener noise" associated with uneven illumination of the multi-junction high-voltage diode. SwRI manufactures the optocoupler to eliminate defects and associated discharge, backed up with an internal electrostatic discharge protection diode, and it is designed to prevent failures associated with the frigid environment of space.

"SwRI's SW1001502 octocoupler is a highly reliable choice for high-voltage electrostatic analyzers, deflectors, bias and custom stepping systems," Urdiales said. "It can also be used as a high-voltage linear control element, a current source or an operational amplifier output stage."

Explore further: Light connects two worlds on a single chip

Related Stories

Light connects two worlds on a single chip

January 18, 2019

For the first time, researchers of the University of Twente succeeded in connecting two parts of an electronics chip using an on-chip optical link. A light connection could be a safe way of connecting a high-power component ...

SwRI's Alice spectrograph completes ESA mission to comet 67P

September 29, 2016

After a two-year orbital tour around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft—carrying Southwest Research Institute's Alice ultraviolet spectrograph—will end its mission this week on Sept. 30. Rosetta ...

Recommended for you

Light-based production of drug-discovery molecules

February 18, 2019

Photoelectrochemical (PEC) cells are widely studied for the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels. They use photocathodes and photoanodes to "split" water into hydrogen and oxygen respectively. PEC cells can work ...

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.