SpaceX is launching a supercomputer to the International Space Station

James Marshall
August 13, 2017

HPE Spaceborne Computer runs on open-source Linux OS.

The life of Spaceborne Computer will be about one year-roughly the amount of time a spacecraft will take to reach Mars from Earth. The U.S.'s planned mission to Mars won't be possible until the space program and the IT sector develop sophisticated computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime in space conditions. The mission to Mars is the next opportunity to propel technological innovation into the next frontier.

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. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) said yesterday that it will launch a supercomputer into space on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on 14 August, as part of a joint experiment with the United States space agency NASA, according to a Xinhua report. Our sister site, The Next Platform, has more details on the hardware, here.

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. However, that is fine for the station because all of its critical systems are monitored around the clock by ground-based flight controllers who can work in real time with the crew to fix any problems that arise.

Currently, many calculations needed during space missions are carried out from ground stations due to limited computing capabilities in space. "In order to make this happen, we need to improve technology's viability in space in order ensure astronauts' survival".

As the ISS de-orbits, the world will be in need a of a new space station; Axiom is taking on this challenge, creating the first global commercial space station to host government astronauts, private companies, and individual explorers alike.

According to Alain Andreoil, senior vice president at HPE's data center infrastructure group, advanced onboard computing resources will play a crucial role in the success of future Mars missions, and sending Spaceborne Computer to ISS is the first step in that direction. The supercomputer, dubbed 'Spaceborne Computer, ' is meant to remain operational on board ISS at least for a year, which according to the company, is roughly equal to the period, ISS takes to make a trip to Mars.

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. It will be fitted with a unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware to address environmental constraints and reliability requirements of supercomputing 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. 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.

The SpaceX-12 is scheduled to lift off on Monday, Aug. 14, in Florida.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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