Ozark IC to Create Circuits for NASA's Venus Rover Program


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NASA has awarded two grants totaling nearly $245,000 to Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc., a technology firm affiliated with the University of Arkansas.

The company, which designs semiconductors at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, will use the grants to design complex integrated circuits that can operate on the surface of Venus, where the temperature can reach 500 degrees Celsius – 932 degrees Fahrenheit.

The two silicon-carbide-based circuits could be incorporated into the overall design of the space agency’s proposed Venus Landsailing Rover, said Matt Francis, Ozark IC’s president and chief executive officer.

The company will collaborate with electrical engineering students at the U of A on one of the projects. It will also utilize the integrated circuit packaging expertise and facilities of the university’s High Density Electronics Research Center at the research park. In electronics manufacturing, circuit packaging is the final stage of semiconductor device fabrication.

“Silicon carbide is a semiconductor that is ideally suited for the extreme environments found on Venus,” Francis said. “We have many years of experience working with this semiconductor fabrication process, developing models and process-design kits specifically for this process.”

Semiconductor Ideally Suited For Venus

Francis and Jim Holmes, the company’s chief technology officer, have perfected design procedures, tools, characterization and modeling approaches that have enabled them, in conjunction with researchers at the University of Arkansas, high-temperature, to design high-voltage electronics capable of operating at conditions beyond 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We will demonstrate the feasibility of creating these needed integrated circuits,” Francis said. “We will also generate a commercial feasibility analysis based on projections of the manufacturing costs for each of these integrated circuits.”

In the first NASA award, Ozark IC will address NASA’s Earth and planetary science missions through the development of a reliable ultraviolet imager that is ideally suited for planetary composition experiments and Earth observation in space. The imager will allow monitoring of ultraviolet signals in order to understand the environment on Venus as well as for ultraviolet astronomy by observing and analyzing other planets and stars.

In the second award, the company will address NASA’s need for a microcontroller to provide real-time programmability for the proposed mobile lander for Venus. Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering at the U of A, will supervise student research on this project.

The Phase I grants came through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, which allows federal agencies to stimulate technological innovation in the private sector by strengthening small businesses that meet federal research and development needs. The program also is intended to increase the commercial application of federally supported research results.

About Ozark IC

Ozark Integrated Circuits Inc. is a fabless semiconductor company that spun out of research at the University of Arkansas and is headquartered at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. Its expertise consists of design of analog and mixed-signal integrated circuits for extreme environments – high and low temperatures and radiation.

About the University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

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