NASA is sending a supercomputer to the space station next week


The large orbital laboratory offers private companies a chance to test business ideas in microgravity, serves as a testbed for astronaut health, and allows NASA to prove technologies for future missions into deep space. "By sending a supercomputer to space, HPE is taking the first step in that direction", he wrote. SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to be launched on Aug 14, 2017, will carry with it Spaceborne Computer to the space station.

Currently, numerous calculations needed for space research projects are still done on Earth due to the limited computing capabilities in space, according to HPE.

Andreoli explained that HPE has a 30-year relationship with NASA that it inherited through its acquisition of computing hardware maker SGI for $275 million in 2016.

The Spaceborne Computer doesn't include any hardware modifications.

Previously, on-board computers for missions like this one are built years in advance and then hardened for protection against the rigors of space travel. Semiconductor electronics are vulnerable to ionizing radiation, like that found in space, as it causes bits to randomly flip thus changing information and crashing programs.

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As a result, "a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially unsafe if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves", Alain Andreoli, HPE's senior vice president of its data center infrastructure group, said in a blog post.

The year time frame of the test represents how long it would get a craft to reach Mars, where a crew would need to rely on a computer giving immediate feedback rather than relaying things back and forth to ground control. Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially unsafe if astronauts are met with any mission-critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves, Andreoli said.

A "smart" spacecraft, however, will require a considerably more powerful and robust computer. Atop SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which is slated to take off next Monday, the first supercomputer will be delivered to the ISS. Future phases of this experiment eventually will involve sending other new technologies and advanced computing systems, such as memory-driven computing, to the ISS once Goh and his team learn more about how the Spaceborne computer reacts in space.

The Spaceborne Computer, developed by HPE is entirely based on the purported Apollo 40 class systems, which run on an open-source Linux operating system, integrated with a unique water-cooled enclosure. NASA typically only approves computers for space once they've been "ruggedized" to withstand variables like radiation, solar flares, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power and irregular cooling.

"HPE's system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors", he said.