NASA Sends an HP Super-Computer up to the ISS


The International Space Station has just taken delivery of a serious piece of new hardware. On August 14th, NASA sent a SpaceX supply rocket up to the International Space Station with a brand new super-computer on board–a Hewlett Packard machine specially designed for use in space.

Photo above: the  International Space Station .  Photo credit:    NASA   .

Photo above: the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA.

The “Spaceborne Computer”, as HP calls it, is part of a year-long experiment designed to give the ISS greater autonomy. The ISS has always been heavily reliant on remote,  Earth-based systems to do its computational heavy lifting. That might seem surprising, but until recently, outsourcing the work to Earth-based systems was a more viable solution than powerful computer maintenance, while in orbit. One big problem with this system is the communications lag from the station; astronauts aboard the ISS often have to deal with internet speeds that would frustrate the average Starbucks customer, so there’s a serious bottleneck getting data back and forth between the ISS and the ground.

With NASA looking ahead to future Mars missions, the issue of communication speeds will make independent spacecraft computers essential.

Talking about the ISS Spaceborne Computer experiment, Dr. Eng Lim Goh of Hewlett Packard said:

On average, the red planet is a 26 light minute round-trip away. Imagine waiting that long to get critical answers during a system failure; that simply isn’t an option. Having a super-computer on board the spacecraft will allow our interplanetary explorers to meet some of these challenges in real time, whether it be on-the-spot processing power for scalable simulation, analytics or artificial intelligence. But first we need to figure out how to make a super-computer function correctly in orbit. That’s what we aim to research through this year-long experiment.
— Dr. Eng Lim Goh of Hewlett Packard
Photo: HP’s  ‘Spaceborne Computer’ .  Photo credit:    Hewlett Packard.

As well as pushing the frontiers of spacecraft computing, HP hopes the ISS experiment will give them valuable insights to employ in their next generation of personal computers.

Who doesn’t want a laptop you can take into outer space?