UMass Amherst Professor to Help Design Computer Chips for Use in Deep Space Project

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts electrical and computer engineering professor Israel Koren will play a role in helping design new unmanned space vehicles, set to launch in 2001, as part of NASA’s planned exploration of the solar system and beyond.

The X2000-Deep Space project, for which Koren will serve as an adviser, comes on the heels of the Mars Pathfinder project, which sent an unmanned rover to the Martian surface and garnered worldwide attention for its discoveries there.

Koren was awarded a $323,000 grant from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as part of a collaborative research effort in the design of computer chips that will be used in space. He will lead research and provide advice to JPL engineers who are designing state-of-the-art microsystems.

A microsystem consists of several microchips in a single package; each chip may include about five million transistors. These specialized microsystems will make it possible to create a rover that is smaller, yet more self-sufficient and intelligent than the Sojourner, the rover used during the Pathfinder mission.

Designing microsystems to go into space poses immense reliability challenges, said Koren. Many different circuits of various kinds must work together on the same chip. In addition, the chips must be reliable despite the extreme temperatures of outer space. Koren will be assisted by a team of graduate students in the College of Engineering’s Very Large-Scale Integration Yield and Reliability Laboratory, which he heads.