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Enabling radiation tolerant heterogeneous GPU-based onboard data processing in space


Publication Type:

Journal article


CEAS Space Journal



The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in small satellite missions for commercial, public, and government intelligence applications. Given the rapid commercialization of constellation-driven services in Earth Observation, situational domain awareness, communications including machine-to-machine interface, exploration etc., small satellites represent an enabling technology for a large growth market generating truly Big Data. Examples of modern sensors that can generate very large amounts of data are optical sensing, hyperspectral, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and Infrared imaging. Traditional handling and downloading of Big Data from space requires a large onboard mass storage and high bandwidth downlink with a trend towards optical links. Many missions and applications can benefit significantly from onboard cloud computing similarly to Earth-based cloud services. Hence, enabling space systems to provide near real-time data and enable low latency distribution of critical and time sensitive information to users. In addition, the downlink capability can be more effectively utilized by applying more onboard processing to reduce the data and create high value information products. This paper discusses current implementations and roadmap for leveraging high performance computing tools and methods on small satellites with radiation tolerant hardware. This includes runtime analysis with benchmarks of convolutional neural networks and matrix multiplications using industry standard tools (e.g., TensorFlow and PlaidML). In addition, a ½ CubeSat volume unit (0.5U) (10 × 10 × 5 cm3) cloud computing solution, called SpaceCloud™ iX5100 based on AMD 28 nm APU technology is presented as an example of heterogeneous computer solution. An evaluation of the AMD 14 nm Ryzen APU is presented as a candidate for future advanced onboard processing for space vehicles.


author = {Fredrik Bruhn and Nandinbaatar Tsog and Fabian Kunkel and Oskar Flordal and Ian Troxel},
title = {Enabling radiation tolerant heterogeneous GPU-based onboard data processing in space},
editor = {Hansj{\"o}rg Dittus},
month = {June},
year = {2020},
journal = {CEAS Space Journal},
url = {}