The Basic Facts About Sensitive Spacecraft Microelectronics and Space Radiation

The satellites that orbit the Earth today would not be possible without microprocessors. Computers onboard the spacecraft control many of the spacecraft operations. The brain of each computer is a central processing unit, which in the case of microcomputers is a microprocessor chip. Microprocessors are remarkable devices where a million or more transistors can be linked in a single integrated circuit the size of a postage stamp.

Transistors are the basic elements in the logic circuits that allow computers to operate. They can be made to either block currents or transmit them behaving as small switches. Semiconductors that make up the transistor produce this switching behavior.

The operation of today's satellites depend critically on semiconductor devices. And parodoxically, satellite failures are frequently a consequence of the interaction of the space environment with semiconductor devices. They are one of the most vulnerable satellite components to damage from space radiation.

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