NASA’s model-new Perseverance rover is the most sophisticated device which is ever landed on Mars. But when it comes to rovers, “state of the art” is a subjective expression. Perseverance is managing on none other than a PowerPC 750, a one-core, 233MHz processor with just 6 million transistors that is most famous for powering the unique “Bondi blue” iMac from 1998. It is the exact same sort of processor that NASA already utilizes in its Curiosity rover.
That may perhaps look like a squander to some. After all, even with the issue of purchasing laptop pieces these times, certainly NASA could have uncovered the finances for something like Intel’s $500 Main i9-10900K CPU (with 10 cores and a max clock velocity of 5.3GHz) someplace in the $2.7 billion price of Perseverance. But as New Scientist points out, this kind of an superior chip is basically a detriment to the distinctive operating conditions of Mars.
That is mainly simply because Mars’ ambiance gives significantly a lot less safety from dangerous radiation and charged particles than Earth’s atmosphere. A undesirable burst of radiation can terribly wreck the sensitive electronics of a present day processor — and the a lot more complicated the chip, the additional can go wrong. Furthermore, at 138 million miles absent, it’s not like NASA can just swap out the processor if points go sideways. For the reason that of those disorders, Perseverance really attributes two computing modules: just one is a backup just in scenario anything goes erroneous. (A 3rd copy of the module is also on board for graphic evaluation.)
To make the procedure even a lot more tough, the PowerPC 750 chip in Perseverance is a tiny distinct than the a single in the outdated iMacs. It is technically a RAD750 chip, a exclusive variant that is hardened versus radiation and prices upwards of $200,000. The chip is well-liked for spacecraft, much too: in addition to Perseverance and Curiosity, it also powers the Fermi House Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Deep Affect comet-looking spacecraft, and the Kepler telescope, amid others.
Even though the processor may perhaps be weak when compared to a modern-day smartphone or gaming Computer system, NASA’s spec sheet for Perseverance notes that it is far additional strong than before rovers like Spirit or Possibility: its 200MHz clock speed is 10 situations speedier than people more mature rovers, and with 2GB of flash memory, it delivers eight situations the storage. (Rounding matters out, Perseverance also has 256MB of RAM in situation you have been searching to construct your personal rover.)
But whilst the chip by itself has been to Mars prior to, Perseverance characteristics some new computer system technologies that is debuting on the earth for the first time: Linux, which powers the Ingenuity helicopter that will endeavor to fly autonomously on Mars as portion of Perseverance’s mission.