Qinetiq has been awarded a £1.9m contract by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) Research Acquisition Organisation (RAO) to assess the vulnerability of components within military equipment to naturally occurring radiation.
The five-year study will help the MOD manage the likely impact of exposure to naturally occurring radiation earlier in the design and development cycle.
According to Qinetiq, military equipment is increasingly reliant on commercially sourced components, such as high-density memories, gate arrays, processors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). Unlike many components designed specifically for military use, such commercially available components are rarely hardened against radiation exposure.
Naturally occurring radiation can cause reliability issues for the advanced electronics used in a range of systems operating at high altitudes, including aircraft, unmanned systems and missiles. Natural radiation at sea level has the potential to cause problems for ground-based equipment. In certain circumstances, exposure to radiation can cause component failure, which in turn can cause problems at system level.
Drawing on previous experience of studying naturally occurring radiation, including four years of flights in Concorde and flights on NASA’s Space Shuttle, Qinetiq will provide the MOD with tools to predict the reliability of electronic equipment at a range of altitudes from 100,000 feet down to sea level.
Qinetiq will study the vulnerabilities of military systems to solar particle events, caused by sudden activity on the surface of the Sun, during which radiation levels can increase by up to 1000 times those experienced normally. The potential impact of background radiation which is always present, and which peaks at 60,000 feet, will also be assessed.
Dr David Joynson, Research Director for Electronic Systems at the RAO, said: ‘The military use of advanced electronics developed in the commercial world is a reality. However, component failure in a fast jet is potentially far more serious than in a domestic PC. These components need to be sufficiently robust to perform the challenging tasks demanded of them.’
Ian Reid, Managing Director of Qinetiq’s Space division, added: ‘The supply of electronic components is now driven by high-volume commercial markets, such as computers, consumer appliances and telecommunications, and these are increasingly being used for military systems. Therefore, understanding the vulnerabilities of these components to radiation exposure is hugely important for the MOD. Qinetiq is able to draw on many years of research of cosmic radiation in space and apply this understanding to the sub-space environment and we look forward to working with the MOD on this programme.’