Pluto Probe Is Powered By The Same CPU As A PlayStation

Pluto Probe Is Powered By The Same CPU As A PlayStation

This week, the world has looked on with awe as the New Horizons probe sent back the first ever detailed pictures of Pluto. Those images weren't taken using the latest technology, though; New Horizons launched in January 2006, and was obviously designed and built even earlier.

So the gear inside is a little more primitive than what you'd put in a probe today. Case in point: the CPU powering the mission is a 32-bit MIPS R3000 processor. The same one used in the Sony PlayStation (via The Verge).

Not the PS2. The original PlayStation. Basic and low-fi by even 2005 standards, sure, but hey, it worked! And is still working, nearly a decade on, despite the best efforts of (quite literally) time and space.


Comments

    I don't know if it was the best efforts of time and space, I reckon if they were really trying we'd see a few more blackholes mysteriously appearing on course and disappearing ;)

    Basic and low-fi by even 2005 standards, sure, but hey, it worked!

    I imagine that's exactly WHY they chose it. By then it had been around long enough that any defects in it would have been discovered and well known. They wouldn't want to pick something brand new and cutting edge only to discover some kind of flaw in the design once they were halfway to Pluto.

    When they come across this probe, aliens be like... "lol" in regards to our tech....

    Also, PS stands for PlutoStation

    Not surprised, if you can take a low powered CPU and debug the hell out of it then you get a very reliable chip. The 5 Space Shuttles were powered by these https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_AP-101, and can you imagine what powered the Gemini/Apollo capsules?

      The Apollo Guidance Computer was cutting edge, actually. First computer ever built using integrated circuits.

      I remember when I was at uni and they were teaching us about debugging software. They mentioned that NASA had a big book which listed all of the known bugs and defects in the space shuttle's software along with the workarounds etc. The reason being that they figured it was better to just document and live with the bugs that they knew about rather than fix them and run the risk of introducing new, potentially more serious bugs that they might not find out about until they were up there in space.

    It was used in PS2 as well - the I/O controller was a MIPS R3000.

    Also technically the New Horizons probe uses a Mongoose-V. It's a R3000-derived CPU that runs at 12 mHz (standard R3000 had a higher clock) and more importantly is radiation hardened.

    completely missing the point that the low-fi components used arent antiquated because it was obviously designed and built even earlier., but rather because they need to use low powered equipment because of a lack of efficient power source. they could have easily thrown an 8mp camera for example, but trying to transmit images back to earth at an average rate of 2000 bps, or 250 bytes per sec is a whole other story. not to mention the CPU load required to compress an image of that size.

      It's not really about power consumption. Low power microprocessors have been available for a while. Most importantly, it is about resistance to radiation, and then about simplicity and deep understanding of the architecture.

      All computer systems sent up into space, especially when going beyond Earth's magnetosphere, have to meet RADHARD specification [radiation hardened]. As such, the are often based on much older architectures than the cutting edge on earth.
      Additionally, the systems aren't running like PC's here on Earth. They run real-time OS's, like vxWorks, and are programmed in assembly. They need to know, bit for bit, exactly what the processor is doing, even when it crashes. A crash of the system is a huge problem when your round-trip light time [ping] is 9 hours. All computer systems are duplicated for redundancy.

      With so much at stake, you can't afford to have any unknowns in your computer systems, so the better a system is understood, the better. This means all hardware flown is many generations old by earth-standards.

      Even more modern systems still use older generation processors. The Mars Science Laboratory [Curiosity], uses a RADHARD version of the PowerPC 700 series processor. The same one used in the Mac G3 from 1999. These are still more than adequate to control the instruments on the rover.

    completely missing the point that the low-fi components used arent antiquated because it was obviously designed and built even earlier., but rather because they need to use low powered equipment because of a lack of efficient power source. they could have easily thrown an 8mp camera for example, but trying to transmit images back to earth at an average rate of 2000 bps, or 250 bytes per sec is a whole other story. not to mention the CPU load required to compress an image of that size.

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