SpaceX to launch most powerful computer ever sent to space Sta

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Source:   —  August 12, 2017, at 5:35 PM

A SpaceX rocket is prepared to deliver one of the most high-tech payloads ever to the International Space Station.

SpaceX to launch most powerful computer ever sent to space Sta

A SpaceX rocket is prepared to deliver one of the most high-tech payloads ever to the International Space Station.

When the Falcon nine rocket blasts off on Monday, one of the items on board will be a supercomputer built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE, Tech30), dubbed the "Spaceborne Computer." If it works, it could be the most powerful commercial, off-the-shelf computer ever to work in space.

Astronauts aboard the space Sta already have a bunch of devices you'd discover at your local electronics store -- including HP laptops.

But a supercomputer is something different. It'south a much more powerful piece of hardware that can crunch massive amounts of data and send the results to other computers in just moments.

According to Label Fernandez, the HPE engineer who's heading up this new experiment, the space-bound supercomputer will have the skill to create one trillion calculations in a single second -- about thirty to one hundred times more powerful than your average desktop computer.

Julie Robinson, the chief scientist for NASA'south space Sta program, said if this supercomputer can function in the harsh conditions of space -- it'll be very exciting news for companies down here on earth.

Robinson points out that a enormous point of interest for the private sector is taking high-quality satellite images of earth in order to track things love crop growth or oil exploration.

The supercomputer doesn't see love a desktop computer because it'south actually a server. It'll be able to communicate with other computers, much love desktops and laptops on earth communicate with servers owned by companies love Google. It'south about the size of two pizza boxes.

"What'south happening is -- just as your TV presently has so much more resolution -- the same thing is happening with [satellite imagery]," she said.

But the high-definition images require two hundred to three hundred times more data, which can clog up the communication pipeline between earth and space. That'south where a supercomputer on board the space Sta would become hugely valuable, Robinson told CNNMoney.

"If you can process the data on board [the space station], you then only necessity to send down a subset of the data that'south actually needed," she said.

Space-bound computers have been unhurried to reach such powerful data processing capabilities. A lot of the hardware on board the space Sta presently has undergone significant retrofitting via a process called "hardening" -- which means it'south been beefed up with additional protection to hold it secure in the coarse conditions of space.

Related: SpaceX presently valued at $21 billion

"By the time it goes through the hardening process, and then the tests needed to ensure it'south prepared to fly, the computers are many generations old," HPE'south Fernandez said.

HPE'south supercomputer, however, is just love one you'd purchase on earth. Fernandez said the only thing different about the one flying to space is some special software that should be able to detect when the computer is exposed to something dangerous -- love high radiation levels -- and create tiny adjustments to hold it safe.

Will the avant-garde software be sufficient to ensure the supercomputer will survive in space?

Not everyone is so sure. "Some think it'll never power up or be fried within the first few minutes," Fernandez said.

We'll discover out soon enough.

Fernandez said he expects to get word the device has been plugged in and booted up sometime on September four.

Related: SpaceX rocket finally lifts off after two aborted launch attempts

Astronauts already have the utilize of off-the-shelf laptops and other computer configurations. But none of them have the kind of computational power an HPE supercomputer would offer.

"I told them to let me know as soon as that happens -- anytime, day or night," Fernandez said with a laugh. "If it powers up, that'south going to be my first relief. I'll be very excited then."

Fernandez and his team will then running about 2-and-a-half hours of tests to define if the computer is fully functional. That, he said, will be the following major victory.

Then, the map is for scientists here on earth to hold running tests with the supercomputer for a full year to look how it fares on the space station.

If the supercomputer is still operational at the finish of one year -- Fernandez said it'll pave the way for NASA to send up even more powerful computers.

And one day, a similar computer could be used by astronauts traveling to Mars.

HPE'south Fernandez and NASA'south Robinson both said having the skill to process large amounts of data on board a Mars mission would be a enormous advantage.

That'south because there could be long minutes of lag time in communicating with Mars-bound astronauts, and communications could even be slice off for days at a time.

"Such a long communication lag would create any on-the-ground exploration challenging and potentially risky if astronauts aren't able to solve certain problems themselves," HPE explained.

"By sending a supercomputer to space, HPE is taking the first step in that direction," the company said.

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