NASA Office of Logic Design

NASA Office of Logic Design

A scientific study of the problems of digital engineering for space flight systems,
with a view to their practical solution.


First FPGA In Space

Six A1020CQ84B FPGAs were in the Aerospace Corporation build Data Processing Unit for NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's SAMPEX spacecraft.  SAMPEX was the first of the Small Explorer missions.

The earliest application of an FPGA flown in space is The Aerospace Corporation's Data Processing Unit (DPU) for the SAMPEX spacecraft, the first spacecraft in NASA Goddard Space Flight Centers Small Explorer (SMEX) program.

SAMPEX was launched on July 3, 1992 from Vandenberg Air Force Base into a 550 x 675 km orbit, with an 82║ inclination.

Six A1020-CQ84B, data code 9113 were used in the DPU design for parallel processing, fault tolerance, and redundancy.  The A1020 was built on a Matsushita Electric Corp. (MEC) 2.0 Ám process and contained 547 logic cells, each of which contained essentially a 4:1 multiplexer and OR gate.  The DPU was an 80C85RH-based system with 24 kbytes of PROM and 56 kbytes or RAM.

The DPU was written up in the following communication:

"The SAMPEX Data Processing Unit"
D. J. Mabry, S.J. Hansel, and J.B. Blake
The Aerospace Corporation
IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Vo. 31, No. 3, May 1993, pp. 572-574

If you know an earlier spaceflight application of FPGAs, or any interesting early application of FPGAs in any military or aerospace system, please contact me


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Last Revised: January 13, 2006
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