If all goes as planned, the international space station (ISS) will get its first supercomputer next week. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, scheduled to be launched on Aug 14, 2017, will carry with it Spaceborne Computer to the space station. This supercomputer has been built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as part of a joint experimental project with NASA.

The life of Spaceborne Computer will be about one year—roughly the amount of time a spacecraft will take to reach Mars from Earth.

Use of advanced onboard computing resources in future space missions

According to Alain Andreoil, senior vice president at HPE's data center infrastructure group, advanced onboard computing resources will play a crucial role in the success of future Mars missions, and sending Spaceborne Computer to ISS is the first step in that direction.

Currently, many calculations needed during space missions are carried out from ground stations due to limited computing capabilities in space. 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.

Moreover, there are many areas in space where loss of signal occurs. In case of any emergency situation, such a long delay in communication could be dangerous for astronauts as well as the whole mission.

HPE Spaceborne Computer

HPE Spaceborne Computer runs on open-source Linux OS. Its design is based on the Apollo 40 class systems, and no hardware changes have been done to this system.

Discuss this news on Eunomia

Generally, computers sent to space need to be ruggedized (hardened) to make them able to cope up the problems presented in space (subatomic particles, solar flares, radiations, etc.). However, ruggedization process has its own problems; it takes too much time, meaning the systems are often older compared to models available at that time on Earth.

Ruggedization also adds unnecessary weight to a spacecraft.

According to End Gadget, Instead of ruggedizing its system, HPE decided to take a different approach this time. According to Alain Andreoil, their supercomputer has been “ruggedized” with software that will allow real-time throttling of the computer systems and help mitigate the errors induced in a space environment. What’s more impressive is that the system passed NASA’s stringent safety requirement (146 safety tests and certifications) before it was approved by the space agency for the mission.