HPE has detailed the specific aims of its latest program with NASA, a supercomputer that can withstand the rigours of space and offer teraflop speeds to decrease communication latency
The Spaceborne Computer will be the first computer system to run one teraflop (a trillion floating point operations per second) in space, and is first being sent to the International Space Station (ISS) for testing.
“In the pasts, engineers would spend a considerable amount of time, resources and money to ruggedise and harden the computer enough to withstand the harsh environments of space that by launch time, the machine is usually already obsolete,” said Kena Setshogoe, HPE’s managing director for South Africa.
“Spaceborne is unmodified, safe for the addition of self-analysing and correcting, autonomous software; software which is designed to automatically ‘harden’ the computer as it self-learns and adjusts to the varying conditions of space.”
HPE’s statement adds that it has devised a water-cooled enclosure for Spaceborne’s hardware, as well as having created the adaptive software.
During the computer’s mission to the ISS it will continuously record and transmit performance data for comparison with twin computers on Earth, thereby allowing engineers to analyse the difference in performance caused by space’s conditions.
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The statement says that the ultimate goal of this mission is to create hardware capable of faster and less expensive transmissions of space-bound computers back to Earth. As distance increases between a computer and Earth, so does the latency between communications.
HPE predicts that a mission to Mars, for example, could see latency reach 20 minutes. The implications of this are unsettling from a safety point-of-view, as astronauts may not receive mission critical instructions in time to carry them out effectively.
Building a computer capable of teraflop-level processing speeds in space would mitigate this lengthy latency period.
“A mission to Mars will require sophisticated onboard computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime,” Setshogoe continued.
“To meet these requirements, we need to improve technology’s viability in space in order to better ensure mission success. By sending a supercomputer to space, HPE is taking the first step in that direction.”