SpaceX to launch supercomputer to Space Station Monday

SpaceX to launch supercomputer to Space Station Monday

SpaceX to launch supercomputer to Space Station Monday

The supercomputer, blandly called Spaceborne Computer, contains two of HPE's beefy Apollo servers.

The International Space Station (ISS) could be described as a large, international orbiting technology laboratory. The goal is for the system to operate seamlessly in the harsh conditions of space for one year-roughly the same amount of time it will take a spaceship to travel to Mars. And like the smartphones and other "smart" infrastructure, we have here on Earth, a smart spacecraft will need a very smart and robust computer, This is why NASA has teamed up with Herndon, Virginia-based Hewlett-Packard Enterprise to run a year-long experiment using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) computer systems.

"Traveling to Mars and further destinations will require more sophisticated computing capabilities to cut down on communication latencies and ensure astronauts' survival, but existing computing resources are limited and incapable of extended periods of uptime".

While Elon Musk is raring to get Earthlings on their merry way to Mars until the computing resources are available to confidently cope with space and not degrade during the long journey Nasa missions will not be able to take off. The hardware can more easily be swapped out, too. Unlike most computers, it has not been hardened for the radiation environment aboard the space station.

Currently, numerous calculations needed for space research projects are done on earth because of the limited computing capabilities in space, according to HPE.

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This could mean it would take up to 20 minutes for communications to reach Earth and then another 20 minutes for responses to reach astronauts.

The Linux-running computer has essentially taken a commercial PC and fitted it with a unique water-cooled enclosure, but while Nasa's space computers are typically "ruggedised" to withstand things like radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles and unstable power this has been adapted to survive through special software instead. In that situation, the astronauts are likely to become more reliant on more powerful computers and artificial intelligence to make critical course corrections or decisions within seconds or minutes. The Spaceborne Computer experiment will not only show us what needs to be done to advance computing in space, it will also spark discoveries for how to improve high performance computing on Earth and potentially have a ripple effect in other areas of technology innovation.

Andreoli wrote that HPE built a special water-cooled enclosure for the supercomputer as well as custom software created to meet NASA's specifications for computers in space.

"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. The differences between these two sets of numbers will give scientists an idea of the practical effects life in orbit has on commercially available computer equipment, as opposed to highly expensive specialized systems built exclusively for withstanding spaceflight.

Lift-off is targeted for 12:31PM EST (5:31 BST) on Monday, 14 August.

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