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Linux heads for space in hardened Ai-RIO computer

Aug 2, 2019 — by Eric Brown 735 views

Aitech announced that its VxWorks-driven “Ai-RIO” computer, which is available in separate Space and Mil/Aero configurations, now offers a Linux BSP. The rugged Ai-RIO runs on a PowerPC-based NXP P1020 and offers radiation resistance and modular I/O expansion.

Commercial space travel is on the verge of becoming a major market for embedded computing. Much of it is RTOS-driven to ensure greater reliability, but with the advent of real-time Linux kernels, the penguin is playing a growing role. On the low-end, Fossbyte just reported that the European Space Agency is using Raspberry Pi Zero SBCs on its experimental CryptIC CubeSat for low-cost encryption. On the high-end are hardened computers like Aitech’s intelligent Ai-RIO Remote I/O interface Unit (RIU), which has just gained a Linux BSP to join the existing VxWorks 6.9 support.

Ai-RIO Space (left) and Mil/Aero models
(click image to enlarge)

The Linux BSP is delivered as a Virtual Machine (VM) with complete source code and a build environment. The VM has a pre-configured TFTP server to boot the kernel and an NFS server for storage and file sharing.

Aitech is increasingly using Linux in its mil/aero and spaceflight computers. In March, the company began offering RedHawk Linux RTOS for its already Linux-driven, Jetson TX2-based A176 Cyclone and new A177 Twister systems. In April, Aitech and EFSI teamed up to integrate NASA’s cFs (core Flight System) using Aitech’s latest space-ready “SP0-S “ CompactPCI SBC running an EFSI Linux distribution. The Ai-RIO can also integrate with NASA’s cFS, says the company.


Like the SP0-S, the Ai-RIO runs on an NXP Power architecture (PowerPC) chip, in this case the networking-focused QorIQ P1020. The dual-core P1020 is clocked to 800MHz.

The Ai-RIO is available in separate Space and Mil/Aero models, the main difference being that the Space model uses micro D-Sub connectors while the Mil/Aero model has D-Sub or micro MIL-DTL-38999 “Mighty Mouse” circular connectors. The Space model also has more GPIO and a second CANBus port and offers 4x SpaceWire ports.

Ai-RIO Space model (left) and Ai-RIO block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The Ai-RIO is equipped with 1GB DDR2 ECC RAM, 2GB SLC flash, and a GbE port with IEEE-1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) support. In addition to the dual CAN ports, you get 10x RS-422, 2x RS-422, and 8x RS422/485 ports.

The system provides 16x GPIO lanes, 8x optional LVDS or RS-422/485 ports (in place of SpaceWire), and an IPPS input for GPS sync. You can also choose from a variety of optional, modular, I/O “slices.”

Ai-RIO specs (left) and ordering form showing different options
(click images to enlarge)

The Ai-RIO has a 28VDC input, as well as A/D voltage and current monitoring with built-in test (BIT) and temperature sensors. The system weighs 2.7 lbs (under 1.3 kg) or 3.75 lbs, depending on the citation, and power dissipation is less than 12W. Radiation resistance has been tested at over 25 krads (Si) TID.

When deployed with Aitech’s RIO-NET client/server software, the Ai-RIO can serve as a “standalone command and data handling (C&DH) platform or media converter, or as a networked remote command/response I/O data concentrator.”

Further information

The Ai-RIO is available now with a Linux or VxWorks BSP at an undisclosed price. More information may be found in Aitech’s Linux BSP announcement and
Ai-RIO product page.

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