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NASA chooses SiFive and RISC-V as the ecosystem for future space missions

SiFive has announced that it has been selected by NASA to provide the main processor for next-generation High Performance Space Computing (HPSC). HPSC is expected to be used in virtually all future space missions, from planetary exploration to missions to the surface of the Moon and Mars.

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HPSC will use the 8-core SiFive Intelligence X280 RISC-V vector core, as well as four additional SiFive RISC-V cores, to provide 100 times the processing power of today's space computers.

SiFive said this will significantly increase computing performance and help open up new capabilities for various mission elements such as autonomous rovers, image processing, spaceflight, guidance systems, communications and other applications.

Jack Kang, senior vice president of business development at SiFive, notes that "the X280 demonstrates performance gains of several orders of magnitude over competing processor technologies."

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The SiFive X280 is a multi-core RISC-V processor with vector extensions and SiFive Intelligence Extensions, optimized for AI/ML peripheral computing. The X280 is ideal for applications requiring high bandwidth and single-threaded performance under significant power constraints. The X280 has demonstrated a 100-fold increase in computational capability over today's space computers. In scientific and space workloads, the X280 provides several orders of magnitude improvement over competing CPU-based solutions.

As SiFive emphasizes, the open RISC-V architecture will allow a broad academic and scientific community to contribute and develop scientific applications and algorithms, as well as optimize many mathematical functions, filters, neural network libraries and other software libraries.

The HPSC processor and the X280 computing subsystem are expected to be useful to other government agencies in various fields, including industrial automation, peripheral computing and aerospace applications.

It was reported in August that Ball Aerospace and Seagate Technology Holdings are jointly developing and testing high-performance commercial spaceflight processing and storage devices. The companies plan to further test the drive on a small satellite in low-Earth orbit in 2023.

In 2021, startup SiFive announced that it had developed a RISC-V chip core that caught up with the Intel Rocket Lake and Arm Cortex-A78 families in terms of performance.

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Apple last year began recruiting programmers with detailed knowledge of the RISC-V instruction system. And Intel announced the creation of a $1 billion fund to support startups developing breakthrough innovative semiconductor technologies, including RISC-V.

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