Recovering data from damaged flash chips

In Spring 2020, during IAP, the MIT Rocket team launched multiple rockets at the FAR site in the Mojave desert in California. MIT Rocket team group picture in the Mojave desert

The second stage of the staging demonstrator rocket did not deploy parachutes and crashed in the desert. Without parachutes, the rocket dropped unchecked and burried itself 3 meters underground. We got a last GPS position over radio before the impact. We calculated the approximate impact area and the search team found it very close to the calculated area.

AV-bay before assembly
Received GPS positions and telemetry before the impact
Burried rocket in the desert

The avionics bay was crushed and with it all the electronics. We really wanted to know what happened and needed the data.

Crushed rocket and electronics
Crushed rocket and electronics

We found some boards and some flash chips. Most of them were damaged, however we managed to recover the data.

One of the avionics board was a Raven3. Only half of the board was found, luckily that half had still the SPI flash chip.

Heavily damaged Raven 3 board - front side
damaged SPI flash chip on the board
Heavily damaged Raven 3 board - back side

After desoldering the chip, I noticed that 2 corners with pads were broken off. The VCC and Data-In/SI pad were missing

damaged SPI flash chip with VCC and SI pads missing

Unfortuantly, the bonding wires were not visible. I used needles, but I could not make contact.

damaged SPI flash chip - closeup of one pad with no bonding wires visible

I got a little bit desperate and tried something new. I mixed a salt solution by mixing lots of salt with water, until the salt did not dissolve anymore. After placing the needles, I put a drop of the solution on the missing pads (without shorting the other pads).

using needles to connect to SPI flash chip
using needles to connect to SPI flash chip - closeup
using needles to connect to SPI flash chip - closeup

Suprisingly this worked and I was able to dump the flash memory using my trusty Flashcat USB reader. Dumping flash in Flashcat software

Unfortuanlty there is no description about the flash format and the software cannot import a flash image. I used another "Raven 3" and have written my dump to it (after creating a backup, of cause). Then I could extract the data over USB.

Flight data

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