Thales Alenia Space leads the consortium of a project called PROMISE (PROgrammable MIxed Signal Electronics) that will provide technological independence to Europe in future space missions and guarantee its competitiveness in the field.
PROMISE, which will debut in 2022, is an integral part of the HORIZON 2020 research and innovation program of the European Commission, which has European autonomy in space as one of its pillars. The European aerospace industry depends today on non-European countries, such as the USA, where most of the Mixed Signal ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) are produced, the electronic chips considered to be the “brains” of the satellites and one of the elements that are more costly to produce.
The PROMISE project will develop a library of blocks designed and tested to be used in these chips, allowing to cut by one third the lead time of these satellite components and to sensibly reducing its cost.
Eduardo Bellido, the CEO of Thales Alenia Space in Spain, said the company is proud to lead from Spain a revolutionary and pioneering initiative in the continent that will enable the development of satellites fully “Made in Europe.” PROMISE will position the European space industry at the forefront of cost-competitive solutions and enable participating companies to take a leading role in the space projects of the future.
This is a fully innovative concept of a library open to all countries in the European Union that will contain the processing units for future space missions for telecommunications, navigation, Earth Observation (EO) and exploration.
According to Ángel Álvaro, who is responsible for R&D at Thales Alenia Space, added that this system of blocks already existed in the digital arena but not in the analog arena. The company will be able to build in a single chip systems that include both parts, thereby sensibly reducing the cost and size of the circuits. From taking measurements, to controlling a camera, controlling a motor... all within a single chip. This is really an important step for the future of the European space industry.”
Moreover, a prototype chip will be produced to guarantee the proper functionality of all library contents. The project team estimates a 20 to 40% reduction in the lead time for new Mixed Signal ASIC fully based on the PROMISE library. In terms of cost, the design and production of a new Mixed Signal ASIC will be reduced by a factor of 5, meaning that the number of recurrent units needed to make a new design profitable will go from 200 (with the current technology) down to 85.
This project will enable the design of many of the chips that will be used in future satellite megaconstellations. Considering a single ASIC based on PROMISE per constellation, it means a volume close to 3,000 units over 5 years. The project follows the trends in the sector: the space market is increasingly trending toward satellite miniaturization and mass production for constellations, drastically reducing production costs and accelerating development cycles. These trends, combined with initiatives to reduce launch costs, will make space more accessible to the independent private sector, scientists, academia and the population at large.
Thales Alenia Space in Spain is leading the PROMISE consortium along with major satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space in France, plus the small businesses ISD (Greece) and MENTA (France), and the R&T institutes IMEC (Belgium), IT (Portugal) and VTT (Finland). The PROMISE project was officially kicked off in Tres Cantos (Madrid) on January 24, 2020.
Despite the current global situation caused by COVID-19, the partners have already started working on the project. The final results will be presented to end-users and the general public in a workshop scheduled for the second half of 2022.