After a year of proving its mettle aboard the International Space Station (ISS), the Spaceborne Computer from Hewlett Packard Enterprise will become available for broader use by ISS astronauts, HPE announced late last week. The Spaceborne Computer has spent more than 5000 orbits at 250 miles above the Earth proving a commercial off-the-shelf system (COTS) could survive the rigors of operation in space. It’s had to endure zero gravity, unscheduled power outages, and unpredictable levels of radiation.
Providing astronauts with broader access to the Spaceborne Computer is a next step in untethering high-end computational research requirements from strictly earth-based resources.
As noted in the official announcement: “Due to limited computing capabilities in space, many of the calculations that are necessary to complete research projects started in space are still processed on Earth. This approach is feasible for running research on the moon or in low earth orbits (LEO) between 400 and 1,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, where communication can be in near real-time with Earth. However, larger communication latencies of up to 20 minutes both to and from Earth can occur when data is captured farther into space and closer to Mars. This reality makes any on-ground space exploration challenging and potentially dangerous if astronauts are faced with mission-critical scenarios that they are unable to solve themselves.”
Spaceborne Computer is based on the HPE Apollo 40, a purpose-built high-performance computing (HPC) platform. The system continues to stay intact in space without requiring additional hardware. Instead, it uses a software-hardening approach that is integrated with its HPC nodes, proving we can bring similar, affordable and compact systems to space in the future.
“The Spaceborne Computer is an excellent example of leveraging the International Space Station (ISS) for innovation,” said David Hornyak, ISS technology demonstration research portfolio manager, NASA. “HPE’s Spaceborne Computer is a commercial system owned and funded by HPE that is advancing state-of-the-art computing in space and providing supercomputing commercial services on a spacecraft for the first time, all while demonstrating capabilities similar to what NASA may need to pursue for exploration.”
Experiments on the ISS capture a high volume of data, including high-resolution images and videos. However, in the majority of cases, researchers only need to view specific parts of the data. Enabling the dissection and processing of data on board the ISS avoids latency and drives greater efficiency and speed.
“Our mission is to bring innovative technologies to fuel the next frontier, whether on Earth or in space, and make breakthrough discoveries we have never imagined before,” said Eng Lim Goh, Chief Technology Officer and vice president, HPC and AI, HPE. “After gaining significant insights 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.”
Feature Image: NASA, International Space Station, October 4, 2018, https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/images/index.html