IEEE 1355 and SpaceWire - where it all started

In 1999, our CEO Paul Walker presented a paper to a forum of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (the IEE, as it then was) suggesting that an IEEE 1355 serial communications port was rather like a UART, only better, and he argued that this technology would be important in the future.

Back in the 1980s, Inmos invented its Transputer, which was a microprocessor that was capable of handling parallelism, concurrency and communications at a hardware level with very low latencies. Whilst the processor was ahead of its time and was rapidly overtaken by increasingly faster conventional microprocessors, its communication mechanisms - switched and routed serial communication links - have subsequently become established throughout the computer industry.

The senior members of 4Links have been involved with parallel computing and serial communications since the days of the Inmos Transputer, and we have all played our parts in establishing and standardising these technologies. In particular, Paul Walker proposed a standard within Inmos for their new Data-Strobe (DS) Links, in the late 1980s. He helped colleagues at Inmos to develop this internal standard into the IEEE 1355 standard, which was issued in 1995. He and 4Links have been instrumental in creating products and providing consultancy in the technology, and in promoting it to the space industry. With 4Links CTO, Barry Cook, 4Links has been represented at every meeting of ESA's SpaceWire Working Group, which was responsible for the SpaceWire standard, ECSS-E-ST-50-12C. SpaceWire is now being used in many of the spacecraft being designed around the world, in Europe, the USA, Japan, Russia, South America and elsewhere.

SpaceWire was designed as a highly reliable, fast local area network for use in major spacecraft projects, but it is equally valid for other small, low-latency networks, such as those used for laboratory instrumentation, manufacturing automation, the automotive industry, and so on. It is more scalable and adaptable than most of the alternatives, and it is lightweight and efficient. 4Links understands how to exploit it, and has an unequalled background in this exciting technology. Do contact us if you would like to discuss its application in your products.

You can find Paul's original IEE Forum slides here. The original IEEE 1355 specification is available from the IEEE Standards Association, and a public copy of the IEEE 1355 specification may be downloaded from the CERN website. The latest version of the ECSS-E-ST-50-12C SpaceWire standard is available from the ESA website.

You might also be interested to read Paul's paper on The Origins of SpaceWire.