Total ionizing dose mitigation by means of reconfigurable FPGA computing

Smith, Farouk (2007-12)

Thesis (PhD (Electric and Electronic Engineering))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


There is increasing use of commercial components in space technology and it is important to recognize that the space radiation environment poses the risk of permanent malfunction due to radiation. Therefore, the integrated circuits used for spacecraft electronics must be resistant to radiation. The effect of using the MOSFET device in a radiation environment is that the gate oxide becomes ionized by the dose it absorbs due to the radiation induced trapped charges in the gate-oxide. The trapped charges in the gate-oxide generate additional space charge fields at the oxide-substrate interface. After a sufficient dose, a large positive charge builds up, having the same effect as if a positive voltage was applied to the gate terminal. Therefore, the transistor source to drain current can no longer be controlled by the gate terminal and the device remains on permanently resulting in device failure. There are four processes involved in the radiation response of MOS devices. First, the ionizing radiation acts with the gate oxide layer to produce electron-hole pairs. Some fraction of the electron-hole pairs recombine depending on the type of incident particle and the applied gate to substrate voltage, i.e. the electric field. The mobility of the electron is orders of magnitude larger than that of the holes in the gate oxide, and is swept away very quickly in the direction of the gate terminal. The time for the electrons to be swept away is on the order of 1ps. The holes that escape recombination remain near their point of origin. The number of these surviving holes determines the initial response of the device after a short pulse of radiation. The cause of the first process, i.e. the presence of the electric field, is the main motivation for design method described in this dissertation. The second process is the slow transport of holes toward the oxide-silicon interface due to the presence of the electric field. When the holes reach the interface, process 3, they become captured in long term trapping sites and this is the main cause of the permanent threshold voltage shift in MOS devices. The fourth process is the buildup of interface states in the substrate near the interface The main contribution of this dissertation is the development of the novel Switched Modular Redundancy (SMR) method for mitigating the effects of space radiation on satellite electronics. The overall idea of the SMR method is as follows: A charged particle is accelerated in the presence of an electric field. However, in a solid, electrons will move around randomly in the absence of an applied electric field. Therefore if one averages the movement over time there will be no overall motion of charge carriers in any particular direction. On applying an electric field charge carriers will on average move in a direction aligned with the electric field, with positive charge carriers such as holes moving in the direction of field, and negative charge carriers moving in the opposite direction. As is the case with process one and two above. It is proposed in this dissertation that if we apply the flatband voltage (normaly a zero bias for the ideal NMOS transistor) to the gate terminal of a MOS transistor in the presence of ionizing radiation, i.e. no electric field across the gate oxide, both the free electrons and holes will on average remain near their point of origin, and therefore have a greater probability of recombination. Thus, the threshold voltage shift in MOS devices will be less severe for the gate terminal in an unbiased condition. The flatband conditions for the real MOS transistor is discussed in appendix E. It was further proposed that by adding redundancy and applying a resting policy, one can significantly prolong the useful life of MOS components in space. The fact that the rate of the threshold voltage shift in MOS devices is dependant on the bias voltage applied to the gate terminal is a very important phenomenon that can be exploited, since we have direct control and access to the voltage applied to the gate terminal. If for example, two identical gates were under the influence of radiation and the gate voltage is alternated between the two, then the two gates should be able to withstand more total dose radiation than using only one gate. This redundancy could be used in a circuit to mitigate for total ionizing dose. The SMR methodology would be to duplicate each gate in a circuit, then selectively only activating one gate at a time allowing the other to anneal during its off cycle. The SMR algorithm was code in the “C” language. In the proposed design methodology, the design engineer need not be concerned about radiation effects when describing the hardware implementation in a hardware description language. Instead, the design engineer makes use of conventional design techniques. When the design is complete, it is synthesized to obtain the gate level netlist in edif format. The edif netlist is converted to structural VHDL code during synthesis. The structural VHDL netlist is fed into the SMR “C” algorithm to obtain the identical redundant circuit components. The resultant file is also a structural VHDL netlist. The generated VHDL netlist or SMR circuit can then be mapped to a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). Spacecraft electronic designers increasingly demand high performance microprocessors and FPGAs, because of their high performance and flexibility. Because FPGAs are reprogrammable, they offer the additional benefits of allowing on-orbit design changes. Data can be sent after launch to correct errors or to improve system performance. System including FPGAs covers a wide range of space applications, and consequently, they are the object of this study in order to implement and test the SMR algorithm. We apply the principles of reconfigurable computing to implement the Switched Modular Redundancy Algorithm in order to mitigate for Total Ionizing Dose (TID) effects in FPGA’s. It is shown by means of experimentation that this new design technique provides greatly improved TID tolerance for FPGAs. This study was necessary in order to make the cost of satellite manufacturing as low as possible by making use of Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components. However, these COTS components are very susceptible to the hazards of the space environment. One could also make use of Radiation Hard components for the purpose of satellite manufacturing, however, this will defeat the purpose of making the satellite manufacturing cost as low as possible as the cost of the radiation hard electronic components are significantly higher than their commercial counterparts. Added to this is the undesirable fact that the radiation hard components are a few generations behind as far as speed and performance is concerned, thus providing even greater motivation for making use of Commercial components. Radiation hardened components are obtained by making use of special processing methods in order to improve the components radiation tolerance. Modifying the process steps is one of the three ways to improve the radiation tolerance of an integrated circuit. The two other possibilities are to use special layout techniques or special circuit and system architectures. Another method, in which to make Complementary Metal Oxide Silicon (CMOS) circuits tolerant to ionizing radiation is to distribute the workload among redundant modules (called Switched Modular Redundancy above) in the circuit. This new method will be described in detail in this thesis.

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