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Microchips powering China's space program made in Wuxi


China's space program took another giant leap on April 22 as the country's first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou 1, docked successfully with the Tiangong II space laboratory. And two of the key components used in the mission were created in Wuxi, Jiangsu province.

China Key System and Integrated Circuit, a hi-tech electronics company based in Wuxi, manufactured two of the core microchips used in Tianzhou 1's electronic control system. The company has previously made similar parts for the manned spacecraft Shenzhou-11 and the Tiangong-2 space lab.

Serving as the ship's nervous system, the chips coordinate the precise maneuvers the ship must undertake during its mission.

The chips are also reinforced to allow them to resist large amounts of radiation. This enables them to withstand the hostile environment of space, which otherwise would corrupt the chips' functioning and cause them to send the wrong commands, putting the mission at risk.

"We would not let any weakness in the chips go," said Cai Jieming, one of the members of the chip R&D team. "Sensitive units like the memory and trigger all went through customized design."

"It is like building the chips into a muscular boxer that can keep resisting the punches of charged particles and protons from all directions and distances in infinite space," Cai added.

Designing the chips was a particularly challenging process, according to Cai. He created four versions of the chips over two years, with only the final one being taken forward to the next stage.

"Among the chip R&D team, four people are engaged in chip design, while two are in charge of testing and the other three work on verification and application," said Liu Shiquan, the team leader.

"The team is really young, with the youngest member being only 27," Liu pointed out.

Though hardly having any spare time during the project cycle, Liu said the team felt their hard work had paid off when they witnessed Tianzhou 1 blast off into the sky.

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