Microsoft, HPE Bringing AI, Edge, Cloud to Earth Orbit in Preparation for Mars Missions

By Todd R. Weiss

February 12, 2021

The International Space Station will soon get a delivery of powerful AI, edge and cloud computing tools from HPE and Microsoft Azure to expand technology experiments aimed at preparing NASA for launching future crewed exploratory missions to Mars.

The new equipment and software, including HPE’s specialized, second-generation Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), will mark the first time that broad AI and edge computing capabilities will be available to researchers on the space station, Tom Keane, Microsoft’s vice president of Azure Global, wrote in a Feb. 11 post on the Azure blog.

The new hardware, software and services are scheduled for launch to the ISS at 12:36 p.m. on Feb. 20 aboard Northrop Grumman’s 15th (NG-15) Commercial Resupply Services cargo mission. The NG-15 mission’s launch from the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Virginia, is contracted by NASA to bring needed supplies.

The new SBC-2 computer that’s heading to the space station follows the original Spaceborne Computer-1 that was sent to the ISS in 2017 as part of a validation study to test it in the rigors of space aboard the orbiting laboratory. SBC-1 returned to earth in 2019 after completing its mission. Both Spaceborne Computer-1 and Spaceborne Computer-2 are sponsored by the ISS National Lab.

Dr. Mark Fernandez of HPE

SBC-2 will bring ISS researchers a wide range of new capabilities they did not have with the original Spaceborne machine from 2017 to 2019, Dr. Mark Fernandez, solution architect for converged edge systems at HPE and principal investigator for SBC-2 told HPCwire sister site EnterpriseAI. Technological advancements in AI, cloud and more will provide more possibilities in the new machine for ISS researchers, he said.

“Hardware-wise, we’re sending up the HPE Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge system, which is purpose-engineered and built to operate on the edge and take advantage of AI and ML capabilities with its onboard Nvidia T4 GPUs,” said Fernandez. “These are enterprise-class, commercial off-the-shelf servers that go into data centers.”

Featuring CPUs and GPUs

The Edgeline EL4000 servers will use Nvidia T4 GPUs for AI and machine learning, image processing, video processing and other tasks. Previously, the first SBC-1 used CPUs for those tasks. The latest SBC-2 will include CPUs and GPUs to allow for comparison performance experimentation in space.

The 1U boxes insert into standard data center 19-inch racks on the ISS. The racks are then inserted into lockers aboard the ISS to hold them securely. Also provided are an enterprise-class compute node, HPE’s ProLiant DL360, for intense compute requirements, said Fernandez.

HPE’s Spaceborne Compuer-2

For the second generation of the SBC, NASA asked HPE to send up twice the compute power of the original version, said Fernandez. “So, we’re sending up twice the number of servers. You’ll see two lockers and each contains two servers.”

“One is a CPU-based Intel server for those that love Intel and traditional computing, and we’ll have a GPU-based Edgeline server for those that are doing image processing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.,” said Fernandez.

NASA asked for double the computing power in the SBC-2 so the agency can continue its work toward sending humans to Mars, he said. SBC-1 was a proof-of-concept device for 18 months and now the new SBC-2 will be tested to see how it reacts to two to three years in space to accommodate a mission to Mars, he added.

Azure in Space

The Azure cloud capabilities will be used with the machines to allow experiments with getting data back and forth from the ISS to Earth as quickly and efficiently as possible, said Fernandez. Such data transfers are done today using existing NASA technologies.

“The ISS is only 220 miles up in Earth orbit, but the networking is circa-1980,” said Fernandez. “We have speeds of two megabits a second up and down to the ISS. I have 50 megabits a second in my home.”

Increasing those speeds will be critical for Mars missions, he said.

“Microsoft is enabling that, and they have aspirational plans to come up with some AI and machine learning that we’ll look at,” said Fernandez. One idea they will look at is running data on SBC-2 and then sending small amounts of data back to Earth, and then comparing that to bursting data to Azure and seeing what works faster.

“We’re sitting right on top of the same NASA network, but we’re going to encode and compress messages back and forth in order to take the most advantage of that two megabytes per second,” he said. “I have a brilliant scientist who is going to run the same experiment on CPUs, on GPUs and in the cloud. And he will report back to the community, if you have this type of data, it’s best if you process it this way because we are given those three options.”

The experiments will begin after the equipment arrives at the ISS and following their installation and setup. Those tasks are expected to take some time to complete, including several days for the cargo mission to arrive at the space station. “We’ve got three pre-canned experiments for three different users that we’re going to hope to fire off right away,” said Fernandez.

How Azure Views Its Mission Aboard the ISS

“The crux of this work is about making the capabilities of Azure available to astronauts, space explorers and researchers to learn and advance science and the use of the cloud to support their goals,” a Microsoft spokesperson told EnterpriseAI. “Through this project we will be able to continue to gain knowledge on how we can best support the science and research community, wherever they are, on and off the planet.”

With SBC-2, Microsoft’s research and Azure space engineering teams are “evaluating the potential of HPE’s [space-based] state-of-the-art processing in conjunction with hyperscale Azure, alongside the development of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning models to support new insights and research advancements,” the spokesperson said.

That includes weather-modeling of dust storms to enable future modeling for Mars missions, plant and hydroponics analysis to support food growth and life sciences in space, and medical imaging experiments using an ultrasound on the ISS to support astronaut healthcare. Also being created is a platform for the development and testing of hybrid edge-cloud environments before contributing additional experiments to the ISS.

“We are exploring the potential of empowering exciting new experiments that leverage the far-reaching potential of the cloud in conjunction with the HPE Edge capabilities,” the spokesperson said. “To date, researchers have had to often limit the scope of their study to what computational resources they had available to conduct their research.”

Using bursting capabilities with Azure will add to future capabilities, according to Microsoft. “Bursting down to the cloud provides access to more computation/resources than can be hosted in the ISS, while leveraging SBC-2’s power and proximity at the edge,” the spokesperson said. “We are excited to empower others, even in space, to be able to leverage the power of Microsoft Azure – making it possible for astronauts, space explorers, and researchers to think big as they tackle their toughest questions.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

IBM Quantum Challenge 2021 – Let the Programming Begin!

May 17, 2021

Looking to sharpen or perhaps simply explore your quantum programming skills? On Thursday, IBM fires up its IBM Quantum Challenge 2021 marking the fifth anniversary of IBM Quantum Experience cloud services and the 40th  Read more…

Q&A with Altair CEO James Scapa, an HPCwire Person to Watch in 2021

May 14, 2021

Chairman, CEO and co-founder of Altair James R. Scapa closed several acquisitions for the company in 2020, including the purchase and integration of Univa and Ellexus. Scapa founded Altair more than 35 years ago with two Read more…

HLRS HPC Helps to Model Muscle Movements

May 13, 2021

The growing scale of HPC is allowing simulation of more and more complex systems at greater detail than ever before, particularly in the biological research spheres. Now, researchers at the University of Stuttgart are le Read more…

Behind the Met Office’s Procurement of a Billion-Dollar Microsoft System

May 13, 2021

The UK’s national weather service, the Met Office, caused shockwaves of curiosity a few weeks ago when it formally announced that its forthcoming billion-dollar supercomputer – expected to be the most powerful weather and climate-focused supercomputer in the world when it launches in 2022... Read more…

AMD, GlobalFoundries Commit to $1.6 Billion Wafer Supply Deal

May 13, 2021

AMD plans to purchase $1.6 billion worth of wafers from GlobalFoundries in the 2022 to 2024 timeframe, the chipmaker revealed today (May 13) in an SEC filing. In the face of global semiconductor shortages and record-high demand, AMD is renegotiating its Wafer Supply Agreement and bumping up capacity. Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Numerical weather prediction on AWS Graviton2

The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is a numerical weather prediction (NWP) system designed to serve both atmospheric research and operational forecasting needs. Read more…

Hyperion Offers Snapshot of Quantum Computing Market

May 13, 2021

The nascent quantum computer (QC) market will grow 27 percent annually (CAGR) reaching $830 million in 2024 according to an update provided today by analyst firm Hyperion Research at the HPC User Forum being held this we Read more…

Behind the Met Office’s Procurement of a Billion-Dollar Microsoft System

May 13, 2021

The UK’s national weather service, the Met Office, caused shockwaves of curiosity a few weeks ago when it formally announced that its forthcoming billion-dollar supercomputer – expected to be the most powerful weather and climate-focused supercomputer in the world when it launches in 2022... Read more…

AMD, GlobalFoundries Commit to $1.6 Billion Wafer Supply Deal

May 13, 2021

AMD plans to purchase $1.6 billion worth of wafers from GlobalFoundries in the 2022 to 2024 timeframe, the chipmaker revealed today (May 13) in an SEC filing. In the face of global semiconductor shortages and record-high demand, AMD is renegotiating its Wafer Supply Agreement and bumping up capacity. Read more…

Hyperion Offers Snapshot of Quantum Computing Market

May 13, 2021

The nascent quantum computer (QC) market will grow 27 percent annually (CAGR) reaching $830 million in 2024 according to an update provided today by analyst fir Read more…

Hyperion: HPC Server Market Ekes 1 Percent Gain in 2020, Storage Poised for ‘Tipping Point’

May 12, 2021

The HPC User Forum meeting taking place virtually this week (May 11-13) kicked off with Hyperion Research’s market update, covering the 2020 period. Although Read more…

IBM Debuts Qiskit Runtime for Quantum Computing; Reports Dramatic Speed-up

May 11, 2021

In conjunction with its virtual Think event, IBM today introduced an enhanced Qiskit Runtime Software for quantum computing, which it says demonstrated 120x spe Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Fast Pass Through (Some of) the Quantum Landscape with ORNL’s Raphael Pooser

May 7, 2021

In a rather remarkable way, and despite the frequent hype, the behind-the-scenes work of developing quantum computing has dramatically accelerated in the past f Read more…

IBM Research Debuts 2nm Test Chip with 50 Billion Transistors

May 6, 2021

IBM Research today announced the successful prototyping of the world's first 2 nanometer chip, fabricated with silicon nanosheet technology on a standard 300mm Read more…

AMD Chipmaker TSMC to Use AMD Chips for Chipmaking

May 8, 2021

TSMC has tapped AMD to support its major manufacturing and R&D workloads. AMD will provide its Epyc Rome 7702P CPUs – with 64 cores operating at a base cl Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

CERN Is Betting Big on Exascale

April 1, 2021

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) involves 23 countries, 15,000 researchers, billions of dollars a year, and the biggest machine in the worl Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

Quantum Computer Start-up IonQ Plans IPO via SPAC

March 8, 2021

IonQ, a Maryland-based quantum computing start-up working with ion trap technology, plans to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) merger a Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

AMD Launches Epyc ‘Milan’ with 19 SKUs for HPC, Enterprise and Hyperscale

March 15, 2021

At a virtual launch event held today (Monday), AMD revealed its third-generation Epyc “Milan” CPU lineup: a set of 19 SKUs -- including the flagship 64-core, 280-watt 7763 part --  aimed at HPC, enterprise and cloud workloads. Notably, the third-gen Epyc Milan chips achieve 19 percent... Read more…

Can Deep Learning Replace Numerical Weather Prediction?

March 3, 2021

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) is a mainstay of supercomputing. Some of the first applications of the first supercomputers dealt with climate modeling, and Read more…

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized in his keynote, Nvidia doesn’t plan to build... Read more…

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

The History of Supercomputing vs. COVID-19

March 9, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater challenge to the high-performance computing community than any before. HPCwire's coverage of the supercomputing response t Read more…

Microsoft to Provide World’s Most Powerful Weather & Climate Supercomputer for UK’s Met Office

April 22, 2021

More than 14 months ago, the UK government announced plans to invest £1.2 billion ($1.56 billion) into weather and climate supercomputing, including procuremen Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire