NASA selects RISC-V processor for future space missions

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NASA has selected SiFive to provide the core CPU for NASA’s High-Performance Spaceflight Computing (HPSC) processor.

HPSC is expected to be used in virtually every future space mission, from planetary exploration to lunar and Mars surface missions. HPSC will utilise an 8-core, SiFive Intelligence X280 RISC-V vector core, as well as four additional SiFive RISC-V cores, to deliver 100x the computational capability of today’s space computers. 

This increase in computing performance will help usher in new possibilities for a variety of mission elements such as autonomous rovers, vision processing, space flight, guidance systems, communications, and other applications.

Jack Kang, senior vice president, business development, SiFive comments: ‘As the leading RISC-V, U.S. based, semiconductor company we are very proud to be selected by the premier world space agency to power their most mission critical applications. The X280 demonstrates orders of magnitude performance gains over competing processor technology and our SiFive RISC-V IP allows NASA to take advantage of the support, flexibility, and long-term viability of the fast-growing global RISC-V ecosystem. We’ve always said that with SiFive the future has no limits, and we’re excited to see the impact of our innovations extend well beyond our planet.’

The SiFive X280 is a multi-core capable RISC-V processor with vector extensions and SiFive Intelligence Extensions and is optimised for AI/ML computing at the edge. The X280 is ideal for applications requiring high-throughput, single-thread performance while under significant power constraints. The X280 has demonstrated a 100x increase in compute capabilities compared to today’s space computers. In scientific and space workloads, the X280 provides several orders of magnitude improvement compared to competitive CPU solutions.

The open and collaborative nature of RISC-V will allow the broad academic and scientific software development community to contribute and develop scientific applications and algorithms, as well optimising the many math functions, filters, transforms, neural net libraries, and other software libraries, as part of a robust and long-term software ecosystem.

The HPSC processor and X280 compute subsystem is expected to be useful to other government agencies in a variety of applications including industrial automation, edge computing, ratification intelligence, and aerospace applications.