Author Topic: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware  (Read 1038 times)

Offline sanman

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When rovers/landers/etc are sent to airless bodies like the Moon or Mars, they have to be equipped with the means to keep their electronics and other sensitive hardware warm, in order to prevent damage to them - particularly during nighttime where temperatures can drop very low.

Is there any possibility that sensitive hardware like electronics could simply be designed to withstand the temperature swings, including to very cold temperatures, directly?

Are there any good candidate materials under investigation for such electronics?

As the Moon seems to have the more extreme temperature swings, presumably anything that could survive there could also survive on Mars.

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #1 on: 11/26/2017 09:38 AM »
As I understand it, the problem is not so much low temperatures in itself, but temperature changes. These cause materials to contract/expand, and as each material has its own rate of expansion, an object that consists of multiple materials gradually tears itself apart through temperature cycles.
It's difficult enough to find a single material with low rate of expansion, let alone a whole series that can be used together to build an electronic system.

Offline Darren_Hensley

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #2 on: 11/26/2017 10:15 PM »
I'm betting the best solution is insulation, but that is mass, and mass costs money, something no one is willing to give up easily.

I think a good solution is just that, a solution. A liquid that will not freeze, expand, or change the electrical properties of the components submersed within it. It would need to be as light as solid smoke, and as impermeable to radiation as possible.

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Offline Jim

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #3 on: 11/26/2017 11:11 PM »
I'm betting the best solution is insulation, but that is mass, and mass costs money, something no one is willing to give up easily.


Insulation doesn't help.  It doesn't stop heat loss, it just slows it. 

Offline Damon Hill

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #4 on: 11/27/2017 12:01 AM »
In some cases, a radioisotope heater (or several) are used to supply a source of heat to mitigate the temperature change. Pu238 can provide useful heat for decades.  Obviously, a RTG generates a lot of potentially useful heat but that usually has to be 'piped' to suitable locations; the RTG by itself is probably too hot thermally and radiologically. 

Offline Darren_Hensley

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #5 on: 11/27/2017 12:17 AM »
I'm betting the best solution is insulation, but that is mass, and mass costs money, something no one is willing to give up easily.


Insulation doesn't help.  It doesn't stop heat loss, it just slows it.

Jim...
Obviously it does help, in your words, " It doesn't stop heat loss, it just slows it." that means use nothing, and get zero return; use something, and get a return; even if the return is NOT cost effective. Thermal dynamics 101.
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Offline sanman

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #6 on: 11/27/2017 02:54 AM »
Alright, fair enough - materials which can be the basis for devices which survive/perform across the wide temperature extremes that occur on a place like the Moon. It doesn't seem like there's any inherent barrier law which would prevent such materials from existing, which would meet those needs.

What are currently the most temperature tolerant materials out there?
I'm wondering if one day when we see stuff like nanotubes being used for electronics, that these might potentially work under wide temperature variances.
Or what about the Silicone Carbide electronics being developed for Venus? Won't those devices potentially work in very cold temperatures too?

Offline Jim

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #7 on: 11/27/2017 02:25 PM »
I'm betting the best solution is insulation, but that is mass, and mass costs money, something no one is willing to give up easily.


Insulation doesn't help.  It doesn't stop heat loss, it just slows it.

Jim...
Obviously it does help, in your words, " It doesn't stop heat loss, it just slows it." that means use nothing, and get zero return; use something, and get a return; even if the return is NOT cost effective. Thermal dynamics 101.

Wrong.  It does not help.  The heat loss still happens and the temperatures still drop and the materials still break (just takes a little longer).   Just like paper vs foam cup, the ice in the drink is still going to melt. 

What is needed is a source of heat. 

The MER rovers had RHUs to keep them warm, and so did Voyager.
MSL recovered RTG heat through external heat exchangers and circulated warmed fluid through its chassis
« Last Edit: 11/27/2017 02:44 PM by Jim »

Offline Jim

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #8 on: 11/27/2017 02:30 PM »
Alright, fair enough - materials which can be the basis for devices which survive/perform across the wide temperature extremes that occur on a place like the Moon. It doesn't seem like there's any inherent barrier law which would prevent such materials from existing, which would meet those needs.

What are currently the most temperature tolerant materials out there?
I'm wondering if one day when we see stuff like nanotubes being used for electronics, that these might potentially work under wide temperature variances.
Or what about the Silicone Carbide electronics being developed for Venus? Won't those devices potentially work in very cold temperatures too?

Again, it is the electronics. 

As I understand it, the problem is not so much low temperatures in itself, but temperature changes. These cause materials to contract/expand, and as each material has its own rate of expansion, an object that consists of multiple materials gradually tears itself apart through temperature cycles.
It's difficult enough to find a single material with low rate of expansion, let alone a whole series that can be used together to build an electronic system.

Look at how chips are made and how electronics are assembled.  There are layers and layers of different materials.

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I'm betting the best solution is insulation, but that is mass, and mass costs money, something no one is willing to give up easily.

I think a good solution is just that, a solution. A liquid that will not freeze, expand, or change the electrical properties of the components submersed within it. It would need to be as light as solid smoke, and as impermeable to radiation as possible.

JMTCW

Such insulation already exists - it's called aerogel - and it is extensively used in spacecraft.

Jim is right, it's not enough.
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Offline chipguy

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #10 on: 11/27/2017 04:57 PM »
There is nothing inherently problematic with conventional silicon based electronics operating at extremely cold temperatures. During the 1980s a supercomputer maker experimented with cooling CMOS ICs to approximately LN2 temperatures to run twice as fast as room temperature. If you get down to LHe or LH2 temperatures you could get dopants "freezing out" in silicon and everything going to hell.

The real issue is semiconductors are designed to operate here on earth. Commercial range is 0 to 70 deg C and industrial and mil spec is -40 to +125 deg C. Circuits are designed, verified, and characterised over these ranges. Any given circuit may operate fine down to -200, it may need a tweak to operate there, or it may just break. The problem is know one knows for sure without a thorough investigation by design and test teams. Power on reset circuits may fail, PLLs might not start up or not lock, or weird race conditions and glitches might occur in digital logic.

The problem is the space industry is just a micro speck in the overall market for semiconductors. No one is going to offer extended low temperature guaranteed parts without heavy financial incentive. It is probably far cheaper either to identify and screen commercial parts that can perform so cold or even better, simply build in a heater.

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #11 on: 11/27/2017 05:26 PM »
The cold end is rarely a problem, though I've never made anything below -40 (for some geometries that's actually the fastest corner) ... usually things like bond wires/bumps, and solder balls are more of an issue. Outside of the die, differential expansion and contraction of the PCB and chip and probably more serious and I think there are battery charge retention issues.

It's not a one fix kind of problem ...

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Offline Stan-1967

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #12 on: 11/27/2017 05:29 PM »
This problem is mostly solved for any probe within the solar system, add a heater!   Places like permanently shaded lunar craters will be challenging,  as will breakthrough starshot initiative.  All the work to characterize each component at cryogenic temperatures will have to be done.   Starshot seems the most difficult,  as mass budgets for heaters will be squeezed very hard.   Nothing will work as it approaches the Universes ambient temp.


Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Ultra-Cold Temperature Tolerant Electronics/Hardware
« Reply #13 on: 11/27/2017 08:32 PM »
Very low temperature electronics was developed for the James Webb Telescope.
https://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/jwst_digital.html

Fortunately the Moon is a vacuum so the main heating is sun light. Sun shields can protect the equipment from the high temperatures.

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