Innovation

HPE and NASA experiment with 'Spaceborne Computer,' a supercomputer that could help us get to Mars

A year-long experiment will send a highly sophisticated computing system, via the SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft, to the ISS. The ultimate goal is aiding astronauts on a trip to Mars.

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Image: HPE

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and NASA will partner to send a supercomputer to space, the companies announced in a blog post on Monday.

The "Spaceborne Computer" will be sent up to the International Space Station (ISS), first by being launched on the SpaceX CRS-12 rocket, and then sent via the SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft. It will be a year-long experiment, with aims to eventually land on a mission to Mars—a trip of the same length.

Why? Advanced computing, currently done on land, could help astronauts survive in gruelling conditions by allowing for processing of information in real-time in space.

The Spaceborne Computer comes equipped with the HPE Apollo 40 class systems, the blog post stated, which includes a high-speed HPC interconnect running an open-source Linux operating system. Importantly, this system could eliminate communication latencies, which can take up to 40 minutes, and can "make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially dangerous if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they're not able to solve themselves," Alain Andreoli, SVP and GM of HPE's data center infrastructure group, wrote in the blog post.

A computer this advanced has never run in space before, since most computing systems are not developed to survive in brutal conditions that include factors such as radiation, solar flares, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power and irregular cooling. However, the software on this computer was developed to withstand these types of conditions, and its water-cooled enclosure for the hardware was created to help keep the system safe.

The project, Andreoli wrote, has implications beyond what it can do for a voyage to Mars. "The Spaceborne Computer experiment will not only show us what needs to be done to advance computing in space, it will also spark discoveries for how to improve high performance computing (HPC) on Earth and potentially have a ripple effect in other areas of technology innovation," Andreoli wrote.

SEE: How Mark Shuttleworth became the first African in space and launched a software revolution (PDF download)

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. On Monday, a blog post by HPE announced a partnership with NASA that will send a "Spaceborne Computer"—a supercomputer—on a year-long experiment to the ISS.
  2. The project is intended to eventually end up on a voyage to Mars—which also takes a year—with the intention of helping astronauts perform high-level computation in space, which could eliminate the current lag-time in communication between space and Earth.
  3. The project is intended to have broader implications for the kind of advanced computing that can be done in space.

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About Hope Reese

Hope Reese is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers the intersection of technology and society, examining the people and ideas that transform how we live today.

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