Industrial Computers in Space

GE Intelligent Platform’s CR11 single board computers have been deployed on the International Space Station as part of the European Space Agency’s continuing experiments.

The term “rugged” is one the most frequently used terms by suppliers of industrial equipment to highlight their products’ ability to withstand extreme temperature swings, exposure to the elements, and resistance to shock and vibration. But the ultimate real world test of such claims often involves taking those products out of the real world we regularly inhabit and into space.

At this moment, in orbit around Earth, are two of GE Intelligent Platforms’ CR11 single board computers (SBC) that have been integrated into the control and video unit in the European Physiology Module (EPM) to support the European Space Administration’s (ESA’s) Plasma Kristall-4 (PK-4) research missions.

The CR11 is a 6U, CompactPCI SBC featuring an Intel Core Duo processor. It has an extended temperature range of -40° to +80° C and increased shock and vibration immunity via optional stiffener bars and wedge locks. Typical industrial applications for this SBC include factory automation, simulation/training, test and measurement, and military/defense.

The ESA PK-4 permanent installation within the European Columbus research module onboard the ISS is designed to conduct experiments on the complex plasmas in space. Plasma is the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids and gasses. In space, more than 99 per cent of visible material (e.g., stars and gas clouds) is made up of this fourth state of matter.

In the PK-4, the CR11s are used to execute the scientific script, record high volumes of video (130 Mbytes/sec) and housekeeping data, and display experiment videos.

“This is a great example of what GE rugged is all about,” said Chris Lever, general manager, Embedded at GE’s Intelligent Platforms business. “Whether it’s in the harsh environment of a heavy manufacturing facility, a railroad locomotive, onboard an armored vehicle, or out in space, GE’s solutions are designed to operate with absolute reliability wherever they are deployed, in whatever conditions.”

The CR11, is not the only GE Intelligent Platforms product on the ISS. In 2010, Goodrich Corporation created a custom version of the NETernity RM924RC Ethernet switch for the ISS. Several of these switches are now part of the network control system of the ISS’s onboard improved Payload Ethernet Gateway.

Though production of the CR11 has been discontinued, an updated version—XCR15 CompactPCI SBC—is available.

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