JAXA, AIST Paving Way for Fabricating Integrated Circuits in Space

Fig. 1: Traditional Mega Fab and Minimal Fab (Credit: JAXA)

Highlights

  • Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) is aiming to produce integrated circuits (ICs) for space applications with a small-volume production system (Minimal Fab) (Figure 1). Using a practical SOI-CMOS with two-layer aluminum wiring process, Technology 2018, developed by National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) (Figure 2), JAXA has designed an IC which contains around 1000 transistors (4bit shift resistor and an I/O circuit) and manufactured a prototype chip (Figure 3) whose operations has been demonstrated successfully (Figure 4).
  • AIST has built a fully automatic Minimal Fab system, which enables a circuit designer to manufacture a semiconductor device on his own by operating a series of manufacturing equipment. Maneuvered by a JAXA circuit engineer, the new system has proven itself and produced the above ICs.
  • These prototyping and operational demonstration have opened the way to manufacturing electronic devices aboard spacecraft with a Minimal Fab process, which is expected to broaden the applications of the new process.

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — JAXA and AIST have been conducting a joint research project concerning the applications of a small-volume production system (Minimal Fab) (Figure 1) to aerospace research and development applications, and have demonstrated for the first time in the world that the new system can realize ICs intended for use in space.


Fig. 2: Practical SOI‐CMOS Technology 2018 developed for Minimal Fab (Credit: AIST)

AIST has developed a fully Minimal Fab SOI-CMOS with two-layer aluminum wiring process, called “Technology 2018” (Figure 2). Since each piece of technical information and the whole operating procedure of the Technology 2018 process are computerized, the operation of the entire equipment is completely automated, requiring no special skills, which is the outstanding feature of Minimal Fab.

Fig. 3: The Photo of fabricated IC (right) and packaged chip (left) (Credit: JAXA)

Capitalizing on expertise in designing and manufacturing ICs accumulated through many spacecraft development projects, JAXA has designed an IC which contains around 1000 transistors (4bit shift resister and an I/O circuit), prototyped using Technology 2018 (Figure 3), and demonstrated normal functionality of each circuit element (Figure 4).

Fig. 4: Measured waveform of 4bit Shift Register (Credit: JAXA)

The demonstration has proved the effectiveness of a Minimal Fab system, which can produce a wide variety of ICs for space applications in small batches in short periods. Efforts will be continued to put this technology into practice.AIST will accelerate its efforts in developing application of Minimal Fab not only to spacecraft but to many fields of industry including the production of IoT devices, which is one of the purposes of this project.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    A 1000 transistors is where ordinary chip making was in the late 1960s. So this machine can only make simple integrated circuits. Even today this will be useful if it can make analogue circuits.

    To interest the space community the chips would have to be radiation hard and have a wide temperature range. Few off the shelf civilian chips meet this requirement.

    The write up does not give the size of the chip so 0.5 inch wafer could be a single chip, although there may be say 16 chips on a wafer.

    At $5 million the manufacturing machine can be afforded by university electronics departments and NASA sites. NASA’s probes and student’s projects can require bespoke chips.

  • Luis

    Is this proof of concept? As Andrew points out 1000 transistors sounds like a joke, though he does make the case of it’s usefulnes

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The gate oxide is 6nm so they can probably get over a thousand million transistors on a chip. Which would make the 1000 transistor 4 bit shift register just a simple test circuit that one engineer can design in a day.

  • passinglurker

    Now what I want to know is can it replicate its own IC’s?