SpaceX Dragon supply ship will be loaded with hardware for delivery to the International Space Station.
Credit: NASA

NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting its 12th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station early next week.

Loaded with more than 6,400 pounds of research, crew supplies and hardware, the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.

The payloads include crucial materials to directly support several of the more than 250 science and research investigations to be conducted on the orbiting laboratory during Expeditions 52 and 53.

Credit: NASA

Spaceborne computer

Onboard the SpaceX Dragon is a year-long experiment, a team effort of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and NASA. That length of time will test a supercomputer’s ability to function in the harsh conditions of space.

From faster problem solving to astronaut survival, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) Spaceborne Computer is the first step in developing sophisticated onboard computing resources.

Mars mission

The Spaceborne Computer is part of a year-long experiment conducted by HPE and NASA to run a high performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system in space, which has never been done before. The goal is for the system to operate seamlessly in the harsh conditions of space for one year – roughly the amount of time it will take to travel to Mars.

Credit: NASA

“We see the Spaceborne Computer experiment as a fitting extension to our HPE Apollo portfolio, purpose-built for supercomputing. HPE is excited to expand its relationship with NASA, pioneering HPC in space and taking one step closer to a mission to Mars,” explains Alain Andreoli, a senior vice president and general manager of HPE’s Data Center Infrastructure Group.

Memory-driven computing

According to Kirk Bresniker, chief architect of Hewlett Packard Labs, the mission to Mars will require the most powerful computing system the world has ever seen, “but the incremental increases we are seeing in our computing power will not meet the exponential demands of our future challenges.”

To that end, the 21st century computer to solve 21st century problems is HPE’s Memory-Driven Computing.

The Spaceborne Computer includes the HPE Apollo 40 class systems with a high speed HPC interconnect running an open-source Linux operating system. A unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware has been designed. Also purpose-built system software addresses the environmental constraints and reliability requirements of supercomputing in space, according to HPE.

In order for NASA to approve computers for space, the equipment needs to be hardened to withstand the conditions in space: radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power, irregular cooling.

Credit: NOAA/SEC

Different approach

Physical hardening of a computer takes time, money and adds weight.

HPE took a different approach to “harden” the systems with software. HPE’s system software will manage real-time throttling of the computer system based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors.

During high radiation events, the electrical power consumption and, therefore, the operating speeds of the computer systems are lowered in an attempt to determine if such systems can still operate correctly.

“Even without traditional ruggedizing, the system still passed at least 146 safety tests and certifications in order to be NASA-approved for space,” according to HPE.

Humans on Mars operations will demand powerful computers.
Credit: Boeing


Given how the Spaceborne Computer reacts in space, future phases of this experiment will eventually involve sending other new technologies and advanced computing systems, like HPE’s Memory-Driven Computing, to the International Space Station.

HPE’s engineering eye is focused on Memory-Driven Computers with up to 4,096 “yottabytes” of data. That’s more than 250,000 times the size of our digital universe today.

The unit symbol for the yottabyte is YB. One YB = 10008bytes = 1024bytes = 1000000000000000000000000bytes = 1000zettabytes = 1trillionterabytes.


Go to these HPE videos:

Making the Mars mission compute, go to:

A Mission to Mars: HPE Conquers Space and Time, go to:

HPE at The Atlantic’s On The Launchpad: Return to Deep Space, go to:

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