Science

HPE, NASA TO launch a supercomputer into space

HPE, NASA TO launch a supercomputer into space”

SpaceX and HPE will put a modest little supercomputer into space next week to test how computer systems operate in extreme conditions.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) - the American multinational IT firm has confirmed that the largest artificial orbiting outpost - the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to get its "First Supercomputer" in the coming week. As part of a joint experiment with the U.S. space agency NASA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) said on Friday that it will launch a supercomputer into space on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft next Monday.

"This goes along with the space station's mission to facilitate exploration beyond low Earth orbit", Mark Fernandez, HPE's leading payload engineer for the project, told Ars.

A high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system has never run in space before.

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. No modifications have been made to this space-bound HPE hardware, though - it is straight out of the factory - however HPE did create a "water-cooled enclosure" that acts as a buffer between the computer and the bit-flipping subatomic particles whizzing about the universe.

For the year-long experiment, astronauts will install the computer inside a rack in the Destiny module of the space station. Unlike most computers, it has not been hardened for the radiation environment aboard the space station.

"Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially risky if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves", Alain Andreoli, SVP and GM of HPE's data center infrastructure group, wrote in a blog post.

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.

"Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially risky if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves", Andreoil said.

The life of Spaceborne Computer will be about one year-roughly the amount of time a spacecraft will take to reach Mars from Earth.

A "smart" spacecraft, however, will require a considerably more powerful and robust computer. 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. Its design is based on the Apollo 40 class systems, and no hardware changes have been done to this system. The software can manage real-time throttling of the computer systems to respond to radiation events and other external conditions.



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