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August 11, 2017

Packard, Not Picard – HPE supercomputer heads to space, the final frontier

Company plans to send a supercomputer to space on the SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft.

By James Nunns

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is entering the space race, or at least with building technology to be used there.

The company is catching a flight with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the CRS-12 rocket that will be launching from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on the 14th of August, with an HPE supercomputer on board.

The flight of the Dragon Spacecraft, which is heading to the International Space Station National Lab, will take the Spaceborne Computer so that it can be used in a year-long experiment between HPE and NASA.

The idea is to run a high performance commercial off-the-shelf computer system in space, for the first time ever, in order to see how the system would run in the harsh conditions of space for a year.

Far from being a flight of fancy, the hope is to use the information to build a system that would be able to survive a flight to Mars, which would take about a year.

Read more: Boring critics got it wrong – Elon Musk is well on his way to making hyperloop a reality

Currently, the problem with space research projects is that the majority of the calculations are done on Earth, due to the limited computing capabilities in space. That creates the problem of transmitting data and latencies, which as the distance between the flight and Earth becomes greater.

By the time a flight were to reach Mars, it could take up to 20 minutes for communications to reach Earth and a further 20 minutes to respond. Clearly that’s not a great scenario for anyone.

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Alain Andreoli, Senior Vice President & General Manager, HPE Data Center Infrastructure Group, said that the mission to Mars is: “The next opportunity to propel technological innovation into the next frontier.

“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.”

HPE in space

The Spaceborne Computer is made up of the HPE Apollo 40 class systems with a high speed HPC interconnect that runs on a Linux operating system.

HPE says that there’s no hardware modification to these components but it has created a “unique water-cooled enclosure” for the hardware, in addition to developing purpose-built system software that should hopefully be able to deal with the environmental constrains and reliability requirements.

Read more: SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch announced by Musk after $350m funding boost

NASA requires for equipment to be “ruggedized” before it is sent into space due to it having to deal with things like radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power, and irregular cooling.

HPE’s approach to hardening has gone down the software route in order to save time, money, and weight.

“HPE’s system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors. Even without traditional ruggedizing, the system still passed at least 146 safety tests and certifications in order to be NASA-approved for space,” said Andreoli.

Headline credit to CBR Editor Ellie Burns, who is very proud of her work. 

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