In August 2017 Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced the Spaceborne Computer experiment, which saw the Palo Alto firm team up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and SpaceX to launch a supercomputer into space. After a year of testing, HPE has proven its commercial off-the-shelf supercomputer can survive and function reliably in orbit in spite of surprise power outages and unpredictable radiation levels.
Astronauts who aboard the International Space Station can now benefit from boosted computing capabilities. The computing giant has revealed it has completed the test on a new system that could revolutionize the way computers are used in space and is now teaming up with NASA to launch the devices.
Its unlikely astronauts whose schedules are jam-packed will perform calculations on the Spaceborne Computer anytime soon. Researchers, however, may choose to process data in orbit rather than bringing it back to Earth, Fernandez said.
Our mission is to bring innovative technologies to fuel the next frontier, after gaining significant learning from our first successful experiment with Spaceborne Computer, we are continuing to test its potential by opening up above-the-cloud HPC capabilities to ISS researchers, empowering them to take space exploration to a new level. – Dr. Eng Lim Goh, Chief Technology Officer and vice president, HPC and AI, HPE and Dr. Mark Fernandez, Americas HPC Technology Officer & Spaceborne payload developer.
Normal computing devices often struggle immensely when in space, with factors such as zero gravity, unscheduled power outages, and unpredictable levels of radiation all putting incredible strain on performance. The launch of a computing system that is able to withstand such conditions should prove to be a major boost to astronauts and scientists on the ISS, allowing them to run analyses directly in space instead of transmitting data to and from Earth for insight.
The Spaceborne Computer is based on HPE’s Apollo pc40 server, a dual-socket Intel Xeon Processor Scalable platform featuring up to four Nvidia Tesla graphics processing units (GPUs), twelve 2666MHz DDR4 DIMMs, with two SFF hard drives or solid state drives, and dual 2000-watt power supplies. It had to pass more than 146 safety tests and certifications before being launched into space.
More importantly, HPE has now shown that its supercomputers work in orbit, which means future missions can bring them along. Astronauts heading to Mars, for example, will be able to access information without waiting up to 24 minutes for radio signals to travel round trip.
Fernandez is obviously delighted with the results of the one-year trial because the Spaceborne Computer overcame numerous challenges; NASA officials were surprised how well the Spaceborne Computer worked.