A SpaceX CRS-12 rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center to bring an HP supercomputer, the Spaceborne Computer, to the International Space Station next week: it's part of an experiment to see how long off-the-shelf computer components can survive the harsh conditions of space. He won't be on the flight, but he'll be watching his handiwork-an item called the called the Spaceborne Computer-on the mission very closely over the next 12 months. The ISS is the ideal place for private companies to test business ideas in microgravity, and NASA to test new technologies for future missions into deep space. Atop SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, which is slated to take off next Monday, the first supercomputer will be delivered to the ISS. Our sister site, The Next Platform, has more details on the hardware, here.
"This goes along with the space station's mission to facilitate exploration beyond low Earth orbit", Mark Fernandez, HPE's leading payload engineer for the project, told Ars. Semiconductor electronics are vulnerable to ionizing radiation, like that found in space, as it causes bits to randomly flip thus changing information and crashing programs. These additions were built to ensure the supercomputer can withstand space-related problems like "radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power, irregular cooling", he said. It will have mirror systems on the ground as backup. "HPE's system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors", according to a blog post by Alain Andreoli, Senior Vice President & General Manager, HPE Data Centre Infrastructure Group.
This could mean it would take up to 20 minutes for communications to reach Earth and then another 20 minutes for responses to reach astronauts. The further they travel from home the longer the lag or delay of transmission will be, which could be risky or even deadly if astronauts are met with mission critical scenarios they cannot solve themselves. "By sending a supercomputer to space, HPE is taking the first step in that direction", he wrote.
A mission to the Red Planet will require highly advanced onboard computing that can run for lengthy periods without the risk of burning out - this is why this study HPE and Nasa are investing in improving today's technology to achieve that goal.
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The HPE Spaceborne Computer is based on the so-called Apollo 40 class systems, running an open-source Linux operating system, with a unique water-cooled enclosure, but has no hardware modifications, according to the company. This means the crew on a spacecraft will need to have a strong computer system and artificial intelligence capable of making critical course corrections or decisions within minutes in the event of an emergency. Even without traditional ruggedizing, the system still passed at least 146 safety tests and certifications in order to be NASA-approved for space, Goh said.
For the year-long experiment, astronauts will install the computer inside a rack in the Destiny module of the space station.
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The SpaceX-12 is scheduled to lift off on Monday, Aug. 14, in Florida.
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