A year-long project to determine how high-performance computers can perform in space has just cleared a major hurdle — successfully booting up on the International Space Station (ISS).
This experiment conducted by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and NASA aims to run a commercial off-the-shelf high-performance computer in the harsh conditions of space for one year — roughly the amount of time it will take to travel to Mars.
Many of the calculations needed for space research projects are still done on Earth due to the limited computing capabilities in space, but this in turn create causes a problem in terms of transmitting data to and from a spaceship. While this approach works for space exploration on the moon or in low Earth orbit, when astronauts can be in almost real-time communication with Earth, the further they go towards Mars, the greater the communication latencies.
This means it could take 20 minutes for data to travel from a spacecraft back to Earth — and then another 20 minutes for a response to reach the astronauts.
“A mission to Mars will require sophisticated onboard computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime. To meet these requirements, we need to improve technology’s viability in space in order to better ensure mission success”, said HPE when the project launched earlier this year.
The hardware, which the company dubs the ‘Spaceborne Computer’, is an Apollo 40 server with a high-speed HPC interconnect running Linux. It runs in a water-cooled enclosure and HPE has developed additional software to address the environmental constraints and reliability requirements of supercomputing in space.