SkyWater growth backed by $170 million from DOD.

 
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Byline: William Morris

The next satellite the U.S. government puts into orbit might have a little bit of Minnesota inside.

SkyWater Technology Foundry recently started construction on a 66,724-square-foot expansion to its manufacturing facility at 2401 86th St. E. in Bloomington. On Monday, the company announced its plans for the expanded space: a suite of new technological capabilities backed by $170 million invested by the U.S. Department of Defense to produce electronics hardened to serve in high-radiation environments, including outer space.

This isn't the first time SkyWater, which spun off in 2017 fromCypress Semiconductor, has found success partnering with the Department of Defense, SkyWater President Tom Sonderman said in an interview. Cypress at one point did build "rad-hard" semiconductors, as they are called, for DOD, only for defense giant Honeywell to take over production in the early 2000s. Honeywell, however, uses an aluminum base for its electronics, whereas the new SkyWater lines will use a copper base.

"We're replacing aluminum with copper for some of our processing flow, and in order to do this in a way that doesn't jeopardize the quality of our current manufacturing operation, SkyWater is expanding our facility and clean room so that we can place this new copper-based process and equipment in a more isolated area," Sonderman said in an interview. "That's just because copper has some sensitivities to other semiconductor processing that we want to be cognizant of."

Although copper brings additional challenges to the manufacturing process, Sonderman expects the DOD will get its money's worth. SkyWater believes its new 90 nanometer rad-hard electronics platform will improve performance by up to 100% over technology currently in use.

SkyWater is already considered a "Trusted" manufacturer by the military's Defense Microelectronics Activity program, in part because it is the only U.S.-owned semiconductor foundry in the country. But the...

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