NASA awards grant to Arkansas company to develop silicon-carbide circuit technology
GLENN RESEARCH CENTER, Ohio — A NASA grant of $124,982 was awarded last week to Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., a technology company located in Fayetteville, Arkansas, that is affiliated with the University of Arkansas’ Mixed-Signal Computer Aided Design Laboratory. The grant is to create a fabrication process model for the design of special circuits that could survive for thousands of hours in extremely high-temperature conditions, such as those that exist on the surface of Venus.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, has for more than the last few years developed a silicon-carbide (SiC) technology capable of use in long-term monitoring, sensory, and control systems at temperatures greater than 500 °C. Extreme temperatures such as this exist on the surface of Venus, as well as in the interior of jet engines.
“Ozark Integrated Circuits has licensed the NASA Glenn Research Center’s process to evaluate its applicability to NASA mission profiles, and also commercial/terrestrial applications where high reliability during high-temperature operation is an imperative,” Ozark’s director of business development and partnerships, Ian Getreu, told Spaceflight Insider.
The SiC technology is being developed with an eye toward extending the life of sensory and data electronics aboard any future Venus lander spacecraft, and to improve the monitoring of internal jet engine functions and performance.
The grant will support the development of process design kits (PDK). A PDK contains all the information that an integrated circuit designer and their software tools need to create the design in an integrated circuit fabrication process – models of basic devices such as transistors and diodes, the layout design rules, and other functions.
In its application to spacecraft, the major reason for this integrated circuit technology development is simple – to reduce spacecraft cabling by reducing the need for temperature management of the spacecraft electronics.
“For cold environments such as the outer planets, electronics are kept in a ‘warm-box’ to ensure that the electronics operates within the ambient temperature range specified in the electronic data sheets,” Getreu said. “For hot environments, such as the inner planets, the electronics are kept in a ‘cool-box’ for the same reason. By distributing the electronics for data processing, sensing, and actuation outside the ‘warm/cool box’, the number of signals passing into and out of ‘the box’ [is] greatly reduced, and, as a result, ‘the box’ can be much smaller.”
The grant was a NASA Phase I contract, part of the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which allows the federal government to stimulate technology innovation by supporting small businesses and other private sector enterprises that can assist with federal research and development needs. The grant follows upon two previous NASA grants Ozark received last year to begin the technology development work.
Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc. is a fabless semiconductor company that formed out of research conducted at the University of Arkansas. Its expertise consists of the design of analog and mixed-signal integrated circuits for extreme environments of high and low temperatures and high radiation. The University of Arkansas High-Density Electronics Research Center will be utilized for packaging and measurement on this project.
Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”