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SpaceX to Send Supercomputer Into Space

August 11, 2017, 8:12 PM UTC

SpaceX plans to send a supercomputer to the International Space Station.

The Elon Musk-led space technology company’s next rocket, scheduled for August 14, will carry a Hewlett Packard Enterprise supercomputer to test how powerful commercially available computers function in space.

HPE said Friday that the launch is part of a joint experiment with NASA that will track the supercomputer’s performance during a year in space. The goal is to ensure that supercomputers can operate without problems during extended periods in space, such as would be required for a year-long mission to Mars, HPE said.

The more distant spacecraft go in space, the more difficult it is for astronauts and researchers on Earth to communicate because of latency, or delays in signals reaching their destination. As a result, “a long communication lag would make any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially dangerous if astronauts are met with any mission critical scenarios that they’re not able to solve themselves,” Alain Andreoli, HPE’s senior vice president of its data center infrastructure group, said in a blog post.

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The supercomputer, blandly called Spaceborne Computer, contains two of HPE’s beefy Apollo servers. The hardware has not been modified to improve performance.

Andreoli wrote that HPE built a special water-cooled enclosure for the supercomputer as well as custom software designed to meet NASA’s specifications for computers in space. 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.

As the computing publication The Next Platform notes, the supercomputer will run the same kind of benchmark tests that researchers at the TOP500 organization use for their biannual rankings of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

Andreoli explained that HPE has a 30-year relationship with NASA that it inherited through its acquisition of computing hardware maker SGI for $275 million in 2016.

As of Friday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is slated to take off at 12:31 PM EST on Monday, according to USA Today.