Position sensors tough enough for space flight

Sensor developer InProx Technology Corp. agreed with NASA to develop advanced position sensors for space flight, turbine engine controls, and automotive engine applications.

02/28/2008


Sensor developer InProx Technology Corporation (ITC) entered into a Space Act agreement (SAA) with NASA Glenn Research Center ace surface, automotive and energy applications. In many ways, they are superior to conventional silicon-based electronics. All of today’s conventional electronics must be carefully housed in controlled environments shielded from higher temperatures by cooling, necessitating complicated and often costly thermal management systems and long cable runs between critical sensor systems and the electronics that control them.
“The capability to embed electronics in a device without the need to provide cooling provides a substantial technological advantage for many applications in sensing and control,” adds Phil Neudeck, electronics engineer and team lead for this silicon carbide work sponsored by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at NASA Glenn Research Center.
The rising costs of fuel, both in automotive and aerospace markets, and the drive for greater reliability at lower costs has the sensors and electronics market anticipating the capabilities of these next generation SiC electronics and sensors. Future space missions and satellites will certainly have high temperature and radiation hardness requirements. The reduction or elimination of these thermal management issues and the need for extended cable runs will help lower weight and costs in commercial aviation market control systems as well.
Present-day satellites need thermal radiators to dissipate heat generated by onboard electronics currently fabricated in silicon or gallium arsenide, which would otherwise suffer catastrophic failures. Because SiC electronics can operate at much higher temperatures, such radiators could be greatly reduced or eliminated altogether. This would save substantial weight on satellites. In addition, SiC sensors and controls are less susceptible to radiation damage than similarly rated silicon devices, so SiC electronics could reduce the size and weight of shielding needed to protect satellite electronic components from space radiation. Given the very high per pound costs of launching payloads into earth orbit, the potential weight savings gained by using SiC electronics could substantially reduce satellite launch costs as well.
In automotive applications, SiC integrated sensors and electronics are currently being studied for cutting edge engine controls that display improved combustion measurement and control; capabilities directly leading to lower emissions and more fuel efficient vehicles.
“Silicon carbide is one of the most exciting advances in electronics being developed today”, says Derek Weber, InProx Technology president. “The marriage of SiC electronics, which can remain operational in high temperature, high power, and high radiation environments, enabled with our proprietary digital sensor technology is of great significance to us, our customers and the aerospace and automotive communities at large. Playing this vital role in the development of (SiC) sensors with NASA is a great opportunity and one that we are very proud of.”
— Edited by C.G. Masi , senior editor
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