Just over 10 years old, the RISC-V chip architecture was chosen by NASA to fly into space

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2022-09-18 19:26:43

NASA is planning a new processor project to power computers that will fly into space in the future. Called High-Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC), the project is promised by NASA to bring computing capabilities “at least 100 times” faster than current computers on spacecraft – which were developed by NASA. from almost 30 years ago.

Notably, instead of choosing common CPU architectures like Intel’s x86 or ARM’s, this time the processor was chosen by NASA to use the RISC-V architecture, a CPU architecture that is still unfamiliar to most users. around the world to equip its spaceships. This processor will be a collaboration between two companies SiFive and Microchip.

SiFive is currently one of the leading names in CPU core design using the RISC-V architecture and is also the leader in promoting this instruction set architecture. As for Microchip, one of the reasons they were chosen by NASA is because it is famous for creating devices that are resistant to radiation – an important factor for space missions.

Compared to architectures like x86 in Intel and AMD CPUs, or in ARM chip designs, the RISC-V instruction set architecture is relatively young. Newly launched in 2010 at the University of California, RISC-V is a free and open source instruction set architecture that builds on energy efficiency principles but doesn’t pay like licensing for companies like ARM.

As a result, RISC-V is expected to help reduce semiconductor design costs by not having to pay royalties every time they are integrated in chips. From there, it will help reduce hardware and software costs thanks to competition between suppliers and the ability to reuse many times. Therefore, RISC-V is said to have the potential to become a rival of the ARM platform in the future.

Just over 10 years old, the RISC-V chip architecture was selected by NASA to fly into space - Photo 2.

However, with its young age, RISC-V processors are still too rare compared to the billions of processors using ARM or x86 platforms today. However, since Huawei was sanctioned by the US government and could not buy chips of American technology origin, the RISC-V architecture began to receive attention due to its lack of limitations and barriers. technology copyright barriers like current processors.

That explains why China is currently focusing on research and development of RISC-V processors to reduce dependence on Western semiconductor companies. Even Intel is interested in this instruction set architecture, fearing that its x86 processors cannot compete with the power efficiency of RISC-V in the long term.

According to data from Deloitte, the number of RISC-V cores in circulation in the world is now doubling every two years, thanks in no small part to SiFive’s efforts to spread this instruction set, which was founded by the who created the concept of the ISA Instruction Set Architecture.

With an architecture built on principles of energy efficiency and strong customization capabilities, it’s easy to see why NASA would choose this RISC-V architecture for its processors in the future.

Just over 10 years old, the RISC-V chip architecture was selected by NASA to fly into space - Photo 3.

SiFive’s X280 Core Architecture

A representative of SiFive said that NASA’s selection of processors using the RISC-V architecture shows the effectiveness of the movement they are promoting. By appearing in NASA’s spaceflight computers, SiFive and other RISC-V chip companies will benefit for decades to come as the platform can be seen as an alternative to competitors. player.

According to SiFive’s statement, NASA’s HPSC processor will have 12 cores, with four general-purpose RISC-V cores and eight X280 dedicated vector processing cores, to expand the processor’s ability to run application code. RISC-V.

Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s director of Finishing Technologies, said: “This advanced spacecraft processor will have a huge impact on future space missions and even on Earth technologies..”

This effort will enhance the spacecraft’s current capabilities and bring new features that could eventually be used in virtually any future space mission, all of which benefit from the capability. more powerful flight calculation.”

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