Microchip Revamps Popular Ethernet Transceiver and MCU for Space

January 15, 2020 by Gary Elinoff

Based on familiar COTS devices, these two radiation-hardened devices are designed to facilitate space-based Ethernet connectivity.

Microchip has just introduced its radiation-tolerant VSC8541RT Ethernet transceiver. The company has also received the final qualification for its SAM3X8ERT radiation-tolerant microcontroller. These new devices are spacefaring versions of its popular, well-known VSC8541 and SAM3X8E.



New space-hardened Ethernet Transceiver and microcontroller. Image used courtesy of Microchip

The new devices also share the same pinouts as their original COTS counterparts. Thus, engineers can confidently begin the physical implementations of their designs with COTS devices before moving on the new space-qualified devices, reducing development time and cost.


The VSC8541RT Transceiver 

The (PDF) VSC8541RT is a single-port Gigabit Ethernet copper PHY with GMII, RGMII, MII, and RMII interfaces. Targeting 10/100/1000BASE-T applications and built for harsh aerospace environments, it withstands high radiation, temperature, and the vacuum of space.

A lower-cost 100MB limited bitrate version of the VSC8540RT is also available. 

This transceiver is latch-up immune up to 78 Mev. It has been tested and found to endure a total ionizing dose (TID) of 100 Krad.


Block diagram of VSC8541RT

Block diagram of the VSC8541RT. Image used courtesy of (PDF) Microchip


The VSC8541RT supports a range of LVCMOS levels for the MDIO/MDC and the parallel MAC interfaces. It incorporates Microchip’s EcoEthernet v2.0 technology to support IEEE 802.3az Energy-Efficient Ethernet (EEE) and power-saving features to reduce power consumption.

It also includes a Wake-on-LAN (WoL) power management mechanism for bringing the PHY out of its low-power state using designated magic packets. 

The transceiver’s fast link failure (FLF) feature typically identifies a link failure in less than 1ms. Additionally, the FLF2 state machine enables signaling a potential link failure to within 10 μs.


VSC8541RT Packaging

Ceramic and hermetic packages help support an extended temperature range of -40°C to 125°C and an extended qualification flow equivalent to QML-V or QML-Q space grade.

  • VQFN 68-lead in a 8mm x 8mm x 0.9mm package
  • CQFP 68-lead in a 13.05mm x 13.05mm x 3.68mm package


The SAM3X8ERT Microcontroller 

The SAM3X8ERT is a radiation-tolerant version of Microchip’s SAM3X8E. The MCU is based on the Arm Cortex-M3 core processor, delivering 100 DMIPS. Implemented as an SoC, the unit also includes an Ethernet controller. 

The device runs at 84MHz and holds up to 512 Kbytes Dual Bank Flash, 100 Kbytes SRAM, an ADC, and a DAC. It also incorporates a dual CAN controller for enhanced communication capability.


SAM3X8ERT Packaging

  • CQFP 144-lead in a CQFP 22mm x 22mm package 
  • LQFP144-lead in a 20mm x 20mm


Evaluation and Support Tools

Because of their similarity to the VSC8541 and SAM3X8E, Microchip provides a wide array of development aides for these new devices. Developers working with the VSC8541RT can utilize the (PDF) VSC8541EV evaluation board.



VSC8541EV. Image used courtesy of (PDF) Microchip

Developers can also use the Arduino Due commercial kit to support SAM3X8ERT development. Additionally, the Atmel Studio Integrated Development Environment will aid designers in the task of developing and debugging while including an extensive software library. 


Supporting the Space Industry

Microchip has expressed optimism that the two radiation-hardened devices will spur innovations in aerospace technology.

“As the first to provide both a rad-tolerant transceiver and an enhanced rad-tolerant microcontroller for the rapidly-expanding, high-reliability Ethernet market, Microchip continues to support space industry developments and evolution with qualified and proven solutions,” said Bob Vampola, associate vice president of Microchip’s aerospace and defense group.

“Microchip’s COTS-based space-grade processing provides the right performance and the right level of qualification to meet evolving requirements from Low-Earth Orbit constellations to deep space missions.”