DMEA Invention Delivers New Insights into Radiation and Temperature Effects on Space-Based Microelectronics

September 20, 2020 - RT&L News

McClellan Park, California— Engineers at the Defense Microelectronics Activity (DMEA) have invented a new system for testing semiconductors' reliability and other critical electronics components in the harsh environment encountered in space.

The approach, which exposes devices simultaneously and in real-time to radiation, high temperatures, and electrical stress, helps investigators forecast with much greater accuracy the operating lifetimes of satellites and other space-based systems. The scientists, engineers, and program managers charged with deploying a space-based system understand that the microelectronics subsystems' demise is inevitable.

"The problem that weighs heavy on our minds," said Dr. Kevin Geoghegan, one of the DMEA inventors, "is not knowing if the microelectronics will fail, but when."

Project teams rely on Earth-bound standardized tests to predict how long these devices will perform as expected. The drawback to these tests, said Geoghegan, is that they do not capture the synergistic effects of multiple stressors.

"Standardized tests for ionizing radiation, for example, do not occur in the elevated temperatures encountered in space. Unless we combine these factors, we can't quantify the potential magnification of harmful effects under real-world operational conditions."

To address this knowledge gap, Dr. Geoghegan, Tom Shepherd, and Dr. Jeffrey Siddiqui at DMEA recently patented the "System and Method for Simultaneous Testing of Radiation, Environmental, and Electrical Reliability of Multiple Semiconductor Electrical Devices."

Using DMEA's Science and Engineering Gamma Irradiation Test (SEGIT) facility, which includes two large-format irradiators, the team subjects semiconductor devices to accelerated reliability testing at high temperatures and electrical stress, while simultaneously irradiating them for up to 30 hours. During this time, periodic in situ electrical measurements are taken to observe device degradation. From the collected data, device operating lifetimes can be predicted for a given set of operating conditions.

A significant benefit of the invention is that it allows devices to be simultaneously stressed and tested. In contrast, the current standard employs a time-consuming stress-then-test methodology that poses a risk to devices because of the additional handling required. Another advantage is that the patent ensures U.S. Government programs and other U.S. Government test labs can use the invention.

DMEA is a DOD field organization located at the former McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, California. A component of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, DMEA is chartered to leverage advanced technologies to extend the lifetimes of weapon systems by improving reliability and maintainability while addressing obsolescence concerns and diminishing manufacturing sources. Utilizing Government-owned and -operated laboratory facilities, DMEA's microelectronics specialists provide solutions and expertise to developing, existing, and legacy programs across DOD.


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