The aerospace and defense industries require the most advanced and accurate testing equipment available. The applications for what these industries produce are simply too vital, and testing protocols are understandably rigorous. National Instruments, based in Austin, TX, is a leader in providing high-quality testing equipment and software for aerospace and defense applications, especially their PXI Systems.
The PXI System
For over ten years, PXI standard architecture has led the industry in bandwidth and low latency, among I/O modules from high-resolution DC to 26.5 GHz RF. A PXI system features a chassis, providing cooling, power, and communications for modular instruments or various types of I/O modules. They are also known for providing specialized synchronization and vital software features for measurement and testing applications.
The PXI platform allows for seamless integration and synchronization with many different instruments, such as digital instruments, oscilloscopes, RF signal analyzers and generators, and source measurement units (SMUs). These modules can all be controlled by using an embedded controller or by connecting to an external PC. Systems can be customized using many of National Instruments’ specialized engineering software tools.
Basic PXI Components
The PXI Chassis is housing that connects PXI modules and controllers with a high-performance backplane that allows for module timing and synchronization. An IoT model offers data center-level capabilities that can harvest and use data from the IoT.
PXI Controllers are either embedded, running operations without the use of an external PC or remote, allowing you to attach your PXI system to servers, desktop computers, or mobile devices.
47 different PXI Modules can be used for a variety of aerospace and defense applications and provide a range of services, like temperature control, backup power, ethernet interfacing, data synchronization, precise current or voltage sourcing, and a variety of different measurements.
The PXI Software portfolio features a number of products designed to operate together to perform engineering and testing tasks for any number of applications. These fall into four categories:
- Programming Environments
- Application Software
- Software Add-Ons
- Software Suites
NI PXI Express
PXI Express technology increases backplane bandwidth from 132 MB/s to 6 GB/s for those applications needing vastly increased bandwidth and lower latency. This improvement is 45 times faster than standard PXI platform hardware. However, PXI Express is completely compatible with older and future PXI hardware technology. PXI Express technology was an integral component that led to the release of the Spookfish Airborne Imaging Platform. This platform can capture high-resolution, wide-area geospatial imagery, which has a host of defense uses.
Top PXI Models and Uses
The NI PXI-7952R is a FlexRIO PXI FPGA I/O module with no less than 66 general-purpose differential pairs, two banks of 64 MB DRAM, 3 DMA channels, and 32 DMA interrupt channels. It supports FPGA base clocks, arbitration, and the single-cycle Timed Loop. In one case study, this module was connected to another NI digitizer adapter module and used as part of the overall control design for a transmitter control unit for a NATO air defense radar installation.
The NI PXI-7853R I/O module features 16-bit AI and AO channels, eight each, and almost 100 bidirectional DIO lines that can be individually configured for input or output. The NATO air defense radar case study referenced above used two PXI-7853R modules to send commands and receive data from the radar modulator. One unit monitored voltage and radar triggers, while the other kept track of such items as focus magnet currents, power supply, the ion current, and the cooling system.
The PXIe-8135 is an Intel Core i7 2.3 GHz Quad-Core PXI embedded controller for PXI Express systems. It is ideal for modular instrumentation and processor-intensive data acquisition applications. In one air defense engineering experiment, this module was used as the command and control unit for five other NI modules to prove the feasibility of operating a Ubiquitous Radar called Omega 360 using commercial off-the-shelf devices. The project earned an Engineering Impact Award in 2018.
The PXIe‑8840 is a 2.6 GHz Quad-Core embedded controller for PXI systems. It is designed for use in processor-intensive, modular instrumentation, and data acquisition applications. When aerospace contractors Loccioni and Avio needed a solution for designing and validating the control systems of new aircraft engines, this I/O module was used to manage all the data from five other, interconnected modules. With this system in place, development time was reduced by 40%.