NASA’s newest Mars rover has the identical processor as an iMac from 1998
NASA’s brand-new Perseverance rover is probably the most superior machine that’s ever landed on Mars. However relating to rovers, “cutting-edge” is a subjective time period. Perseverance is operating on none aside from a PowerPC 750, a single-core, 233MHz processor with simply 6 million transistors that’s most well-known for powering the unique “Bondi blue” iMac from 1998. It’s the identical kind of processor that NASA already makes use of in its Curiosity rover.
That will seem to be a waste to some. In any case, even with the issue of shopping for laptop elements today, absolutely NASA might have discovered the funds for one thing like Intel’s $500 Core i9-10900K CPU (with 10 cores and a max clock velocity of 5.3GHz) someplace within the $2.7 billion value of Perseverance. However as New Scientist explains, such a complicated chip is definitely a detriment to the distinctive working circumstances of Mars.
That’s largely as a result of Mars’ ambiance presents far much less safety from dangerous radiation and charged particles than Earth’s ambiance. A foul burst of radiation can badly wreck the delicate electronics of a contemporary processor — and the extra advanced the chip, the extra can go flawed. Plus, at 138 million miles away, it’s not like NASA can simply swap out the processor if issues go sideways. Due to these circumstances, Perseverance truly options two computing modules: one is a backup simply in case one thing goes flawed. (A 3rd copy of the module can be on board for picture evaluation.)
To make the system much more sturdy, the PowerPC 750 chip in Perseverance is a little bit totally different than the one within the previous iMacs. It’s technically a RAD750 chip, a particular variant that’s hardened in opposition to radiation and prices upwards of $200,000. The chip is fashionable for spacecraft, too: along with Perseverance and Curiosity, it additionally powers the Fermi House Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Impression comet-hunting spacecraft, and the Kepler telescope, amongst others.
Whereas the processor could also be weak in comparison with a contemporary smartphone or gaming PC, NASA’s spec sheet for Perseverance notes that it’s way more highly effective than earlier rovers like Spirit or Alternative: its 200MHz clock velocity is 10 instances quicker than these older rovers, and with 2GB of flash reminiscence, it presents eight instances the storage. (Rounding issues out, Perseverance additionally has 256MB of RAM in case you had been seeking to construct your personal rover.)
However whereas the chip itself has been to Mars earlier than, Perseverance options some new laptop know-how that’s debuting on the planet for the primary time: Linux, which powers the Ingenuity helicopter that can try and fly autonomously on Mars as a part of Perseverance’s mission.
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