Research in Engineering and Aviation

Argus: A flight campaign for modeling the effects of space radiation on modern electronics

March 2012

Author(s):  M. Swartwout, S. Jayaram, R. Reed, R. Weller

“Argus: A flight campaign for modeling the effects of space radiation on modern electronics”, IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, 4-10 March 2012, paper 1221. DOI: 10.1109/AERO.2012.6187028


The effects of radiation on modern electronics are not well understood; devices with length scales below 60 nm are sensitive across a wider range of input energies and respond differently to different species than larger devices. This is not a trivial issue: existing predictive failure models are off by as much as three orders of magnitude. Complicating the problem is that modern devices have dozens of operating modes, requiring orders of magnitude more testing time. This increase in the required time (and cost) for ground testing, coupled with the greatly reduced cost (and development time) for space experimentation via CubeSats, has made spaceflight a sensible complement to ground testing. The Institute for Space and Defense Electronics (ISDE) at Vanderbilt University has partnered with the Space Systems Research Laboratory at Saint Louis University to develop Argus, a proposed flight campaign of perhaps a dozen CubeSat-class spacecraft spanning years. Argus will fly an array of radiation-effects modeling experiments; on-orbit event rates will be compared against ground predictions to help calibrate new predictive models developed at ISDE. Argus leverages COTS CubeSat systems and the extremely simple payload requirements to field a set of very low-cost, very automated passive platforms developed by students at both institutions. This paper will describe the challenges in modeling radiation effects on modern electronics as well as the new models developed at ISDE. The Argus campaign concept and drivers will be discussed, and the first two missions will be presented: COPPER, which flies in late 2012, and Argus-High, proposed for a 2013 launch.