Back to the future: 64-bit MIPS CPU explores the origins of the Solar System
Several months ago, Imagination Technologies reported on the MIPS-based Mongoose-V chip guiding the New Horizons probe in its quest to reach Pluto. The story captured the headlines of many publications and generated many questions about the MIPS architecture (more on this in a separate article).
A few months ago, Imagination Technologies focused on another important space mission called Hayabusa-2 that is currently on track to reach a rare asteroid called 162173 Ryugu (1999 JU3). The probe is also programmed to analyze and report on the origin and evolution of the Solar System.
Hayabusa-2, the asteroid explorer
Hayabusa-2 is a spacecraft operated by JAXA (the Japanese equivalent of NASA) and features technologies worthy of a Star Trek movie, including ion propulsion engines, upgraded guidance and navigation systems, high-precision antennas for deep space communications, and state-of-the-art infrared cameras.
The NEC Corporation of Tokyo was commissioned in January 2012 to create the electronics systems of the 590 kg spacecraft and JAXA successfully launched the probe in December 2014.
Many will remember NEC for the revolutionary engineering work on the 64-bit MIPS-based chip that powered the Nintendo N64, the first 64-bit games console. Fun fact: our MIPS CPU was so popular with N64 developers that they named the rabbit in the Super Mario 64 franchise after it.
64-bit MIPS CPUs: from Nintendo N64 to space travel
Like Nintendo N64 before it, Hayabusa-2 also uses a 64-bit MIPS CPU. However, the Hayabusa-2 engineers opted for an upgraded version called HR5000 fabricated by HIREC using a special, patented radiation-hardened process specifically developed by the Japanese corporation for space use.
The HR5000 processor is clocked at 200 MHz and includes high-performance MIPS64 features like a dual-issue execution unit, a floating point unit (FPU), a translation lookaside buffer (TLB), and cache memories with parity check functionality.
Since low power has been a defining characteristic of the MIPS architecture, HR5000 only requires up to 4–6W of energy (the equivalent of a modern day chip for smartphones) and weighs 40 grams, including packaging. You can find a detailed block diagram of the chip below:
The probe runs on a Japanese home-grown operating system called ITRON used by many global companies, including Toyota. ITRON creator Ken Sakamura was a guest keynote speaker at the 2014 Imagination Summit held in Tokyo; during his speech, he described the work his team had been doing on the MIPS architecture and where he planned to take the OS next.
Hayabusa-2 is set to reach 1999 JU3 in the summer of 2018 and return to the Earth in 2020 with samples from the asteroid. JAXA is presently running a campaign to name 1999 JU3 according to the naming rules of minor planets.
For a chance to become the godparent of a rare Cg-type asteroid, pick a funky name, fill in the application form on their website, and keep your fingers crossed.
Imagination Technologies reached out to the space engineers that have built the MIPS-powered probe and hope to come back soon with more in-depth information. Follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationTech, @MIPSguru) and search for the hashtag #MIPSinSpace for more news and updates.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After having experienced the fast-paced world of the IP business as a junior engineer at various companies around Europe, Alexandru Voica has decided to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing and PR for Imagination Technologies.
His background includes research in computer graphics at the School of Advanced Studies Sant’Anna in Pisa and a brief stint as a CPU engineer. When not planted firmly in front of his laptop, Alexandru can be found hitting the basketball court, singing along at a rock n’ roll concert, enjoying art cinema or reading his favorite American authors.
Voica reached out to SpaceFlight Insider to share his experiences with our readers through content he had produced earlier. The original version of his article can be viewed here: Hayabusa-2
You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica. View all posts by Alexandru Voica
SpaceFlight Insider is a space journal working to break the pattern of bias prevalent among other media outlets. Working off a budget acquired through sponsors and advertisers, SpaceFlight Insider has rapidly become one of the premier space news outlets currently in operation. SFI works almost exclusively with the assistance of volunteers.