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SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft to Launch First supercomputer to ISS Next Week
12 August 2017, 08:05 | Edward Lowe
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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, designed and built by Dr. Goh and his team, is part of a year-long experiment conducted by HPE and NASA to run a high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system in space, which has never been done before.
The first-of-its-kind experiment will see the Spaceborne computer travel to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on 14 August where it will spend a year (the same time it takes to travel to Mars) in operation. Ruggedizing and rad-hardening hardware is pretty expensive, hence why boffins want to find out how harsh space will really will be for off-the-shelf and relatively cheap computers.
The Spaceborne Computer doesn't include any hardware modifications.
Currently, numerous calculations needed for space research projects are still done on Earth due to the limited computing capabilities in space, according to HPE. 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.
No, it's not another astronaut, but their first ever supercomputer! Semiconductor electronics are vulnerable to ionizing radiation, like that found in space, as it causes bits to randomly flip thus changing information and crashing programs.
"Many of the calculations needed for space research projects are still done on Earth due to the limited computing capabilities in space, which creates a challenge when transmitting data to and from space", Alain Andreoli, Senior Vice President and General Manager for the HPE Data Center Infrastructure Group, wrote in a blogpost.
This could mean it would take up to 20 minutes for communications to reach Earth and then another 20 minutes for responses to reach astronauts. The further they travel from home the longer the lag or delay of transmission will be, which could be unsafe or even deadly if astronauts are met with mission critical scenarios they cannot solve themselves.
So astronauts will require that type of computing power locally on the spacecraft.
While Elon Musk is raring to get Earthlings on their merry way to Mars until the computing resources are available to confidently cope with space and not degrade during the long journey Nasa missions will not be able to take off.
The Spaceborne Computer, developed by HPE is entirely based on the purported Apollo 40 class systems, which run on an open-source Linux operating system, integrated with a unique water-cooled enclosure. The equipment and computerized systems which are sent to space need to be "ruggedized" or hardened with strong hardware for withstanding the rough conditions in space. The software can manage real-time throttling of the computer systems to respond to radiation events and other external conditions.
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