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ESA reveals how small technological “brains” are made that help it explore space

Inside the machines that help the scientific community to explore space are small technological brains that perform an important mission. Space microchips allow you to perform a number of functions: from simpler tasks, such as decoding signals from Earth to control satellites, to more complex responsibilities, such as allowing control of a spaceship.

ESA's Microelectronics department has since 2002 maintained a vast catalog of space chip designs to help European specialized industries build the essential components of space exploration.

The process of developing and manufacturing space chips is not exactly cheap or fast. ESA reveals that, to save time and money, multiple microprocessors for space agency projects are placed on a kind of silicone wafer by various manufacturers.

A 20-centimeter silicone wafer capable of holding between 30 to 80 replicas of different types of space chips, each with about 10 million transistors or circuit breakers. The cost of a set of 25 wafers can easily exceed 2 million euros.

Microprocessors go through an initial testing phase when they are still on the wafer. Later, they are separated and placed in special packaging to be taken to the final quality tests. The chips are then connected to the circuit boards used in space equipment such as satellites.

LEON2-FT, for example, is one of the most famous chips that ESA has developed and is present in the Proba-V microsatlite, in the Sentinel Terra monitoring satellite family and in the BepiColombo mission that intends to orbit Mercury in 2025.