SpaceX plans to send a supercomputer to the International Space Station. Fernandez said HPE also envisions that scientists could eventually use an on-board supercomputer for data processing of their experiments on the station, rather than clogging the limited bandwidth between space and ground with raw data.
A high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system has never run in space before.
Dr. Eng Lim Goh, Vice-President and Chief Technical Officer of SGI at HPE (HPE acquired SGI, the former Silicon Graphics, Inc., a year ago for $275 million) is the principal investigator on this project.
For the year-long experiment, astronauts will install the computer inside a rack in the Destiny module of the space station.
The more distant spacecraft go in space, the more hard it is for astronauts and researchers on Earth to communicate because of latency, or delays in signals reaching their destination. 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. Although this approach works fine during low-Earth orbit or moon mission, it is not suitable for deep space missions as it would take about 20 minutes for a message to reach a ground station and another 20 minutes for the response to reach astronauts if they get near Mars. In case of any emergency situation, such a long delay in communication could be unsafe for astronauts as well as the whole mission.
"Such a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially unsafe if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves", Andreoil said. In that situation, the astronauts are likely to become more reliant on more powerful computers and artificial intelligence to make critical course corrections or decisions within seconds or minutes.
So astronauts will require that type of computing power locally on the spacecraft. It includes the HPE Apollo 40 class systems with a high speed HPC interconnect running an open-source Linux operating system.
"HPE's system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors", he said.
Generally, in order for NASA to approve computers for space, the equipment needs to be "ruggedized", or hardened to withstand the conditions in space, Andreoil explained. Though there are no hardware modifications to these components, Goh's team created a unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware and developed purpose-built system software to address the environmental constraints and reliability requirements of supercomputing in space.
The SpaceX-12 is scheduled to lift off on Monday, Aug. 14, in Florida.