NASA is sending a supercomputer to the space station next week


The more distant spacecraft go in space, the more hard it is for astronauts and researchers on Earth to communicate because of latency, or delays in signals reaching their destination.

A SpaceX CRS-12 rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center to bring an HP supercomputer, the Spaceborne Computer, to the International Space Station next week: it's part of an experiment to see how long off-the-shelf computer components can survive the harsh conditions of space.

Dr Eng Lim Goh, vice-president and chief technical officer of SGI at HPE (HPE acquired SGI, the former Silicon Graphics, Inc, a year ago for $275 million) is the principal investigator in the project. He won't be on the flight, but he'll be watching his handiwork-an item called the called the Spaceborne Computer-on the mission very closely over the next 12 months. The mission to Mars is the next opportunity to propel technological innovation into the next frontier. Unlike most computers, it has not been hardened for the radiation environment aboard the space station.

Thus, the physical hardening of the computers would remain in place, to guard against space-borne problems such as solar flares, cosmic radiation, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids and others. Moreover, there are many areas in space where loss of signal occurs. Although this approach works fine during low-Earth orbit or moon mission, it is not suitable for deep space missions as it would take about 20 minutes for a message to reach a ground station and another 20 minutes for the response to reach astronauts if they get near Mars.

So astronauts will require that type of computing power locally on the spacecraft. While most of the computers are run on a Linux operating system and are connected to the operations of the ISS, there are some laptops that have Windows-based operating systems used for emails, social networking and the like.

"The Mission to Mars won't be possible until we develop sophisticated onboard computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime", Andreoli said.

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

The Spaceborne experiment could also have a knock-on effect back on Earth with any breakthroughs in the software technology potentially trickling down to consumer PCs for next-generation high performance computing.

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 autonomically.

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