HPE, NASA Team for Spaceborne Computer
August 14, 2017
High Performance Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Computer System on the ISS (Spaceborne Computer)
August 14, 2017, the SpaceX CRS-12 rocket, developed by Elon
Musk’s SpaceX, intends to launch from Kennedy Space Center,
Florida, sending its Dragon Spacecraft to the International
Space Station (ISS) National Lab. Aboard the Dragon is a HPE
Many of the calculations
needed for space research projects are still done on Earth due
to the limited computing capabilities in space, which creates a
challenge when transmitting data to and from space. While this
approach works for space exploration on the moon or in low Earth
orbit (LEO) when astronauts can be in near real-time
communication with Earth, once they travel farther out and
closer to Mars, they will experience larger communication
latencies. 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. Such 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.
When the United States successfully put two men on the moon, it captivated the world and inspired technological advancements from the microchip to memory foam. The mission to Mars is the next opportunity to propel technological innovation into the next frontier. The Spaceborne Computer experiment will not only show us what needs to be done to advance computing in space, it will also spark discoveries for how to improve high performance computing (HPC) on Earth and potentially have a ripple effect in other areas of technology innovation.
The Spaceborne Computer
includes the HPE Apollo 40 class systems with a high speed HPC
interconnect running an open-source Linux operating system.
Though there are no hardware modifications to these components,
we created a unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware and
developed purpose-built system software to address the
environmental constraints and reliability requirements of
supercomputing in space. Generally, in order for NASA to approve
computers for space, the equipment needs to be “ruggedized” – or
hardened to withstand the conditions in space. Think radiation,
solar flares, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids, unstable
electrical power, irregular cooling. This physical hardening
takes time, money and adds weight, so HPE took a different
approach to “harden” the systems with software. HPE’s system
software will manage real time throttling of the computer
systems based on current conditions and can mitigate
environmentally induced errors. Even without traditional
ruggedizing, the system still passed at least 146 safety tests
and certifications in order to be NASA-approved for space.
•The power consumption is monitored and power usage is dynamically tuned during these runs.
•The effects of radiation on
the systems when running performance applications are determined
concurrently with detecting/analyzing/adapting to data,
quickpath interconnectTM (QPI) internal and FDR external errors.
The research objectives of the Spaceborne Computer include a year-long experiment of operating high performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer systems on the ISS with its changing radiation climate. 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. Additionally, this is a long duration experiment, studying the practicality of running and managing COTS high performance computer systems in orbit from several months to one year. In summary, the objectives are: 1) run compute and data intensive applications in a changing radiation climate, 2) monitor power consumption and dynamically tune the power consumed, and 3) determine effects of solar radiation on the systems while running. In order to achieve these objectives, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) proposes a total of four identical high performance COTS computer systems. Two of the systems are installed aboard the ISS in a side-by-side EXPRESS locker within an ISS EXPRESS Rack. These two systems with the required networking are integrated at the HPE facility and turned over to the ISS Cargo Mission Contract (CMC) as required.