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NASA chooses MSU researchers’ computer for trial on moon

July 7, 2019

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A computer designed by Montana State University researchers to survive damaging radiation in space was chosen for a trial on the moon’s surface.

NASA picked the RadPC last week as one of 12 science and technology payloads that will be sent to the moon in 2020 or 2021, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported .

Lead researcher Brock LaMeres said the mission will test whether the computer can hold up under high-energy radiation particles from the sun and other celestial bodies. If the computer succeeds, it could be a candidate to be the primary flight computer for lunar missions, he said.

Conventional space computers use oversized circuitry made of special materials to protect against the radiation that bombards outer space.

The RadPC, about 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) square, uses inexpensive, off-the-shelf processors operating in parallel. If radiation disrupts one, the others recognize the fault, pick up the work and reprogram any damaged memory.

LaMeres, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, came up with the concept about a decade ago.

His team tested and refined the concept with $2.5 million in NASA funding over several years.

It was tested successfully aboard the International Space Station in 2017, and in 2018, a small satellite housing the computer was launched from the space station and is still orbiting Earth.

The RadPC bound for the moon will include sensors for measuring radiation levels, producing data that could benefit future, long-term human missions there, LaMeres said.

The RadPC will be loaded into a self-contained unit in one of multiple lunar landers being developed by private companies.

NASA doesn’t yet know which lander will carry the computer or when it will be launched, agency spokesman Grey Hautaluoma said.

LaMeres said he was thrilled after receiving the call from NASA.

“It’s really surreal,” he said, “to think that we’re going to put a computer, one that MSU students built, onto the surface of the moon.”

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Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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