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Operation of FPGA at Extremely Low Temperatures

B&A Engineering principle engineer Ali Bakhshi participated in a paper regaurding operations of FPGAs at very low temperatures to -165C for Actel and Xilinx parts and how there is a problem powering an FPGA at cold temperatures. To read more about the article click on the link below.
Excerpted:
Introduction
The mil-grade versions of components are typically rated C to +125 Since this range satisfies most of the customer requirements, there is no incentive for a manufacturer to qualify FPGAs outside of this range. There are some terrestrial applications for high temperature applications, such as in oil well monitoring, but no need for very low temperature applications.The environment in other planets have wide temperature variations compared to earth. For example, the surface temperature on Mars can vary from-120C to +20C. In order to use qualified parts on a Mars Rover such as MER, it is necessary to enclose them in a protective box, known as a ‘warm-box’, where the temperature is controlled by resistive heating elements.Unfortunately this approach results in complex wiring, since all peripherals such as motors and cameras, need to be wired individually to the warm-box. The wiring could be simplified, if a bus system is used to send commands to control the peripherals. However, this then requires electronic components to be outside of the warm-box, and subject to ambient temperatures.An on-going project at JPL is testing components at low temperature, to determine whether components can withstand the cold temperature. In particular, Xilinx and Actel FPGAs have been tested at low temperature. There are several criteria for successful operation at low temperature:
  • Can the FPGA operate normally?
  • Can the FPGA be powered up?
  • Does the FPGA performance degrade over time?
So far we have some results for the first two, and the long-term tests are underway.

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