At a Glance
- HPE’s Spaceborne Computer returned to Earth on SpaceX’s 17th commercial resupply services mission after a successful 1.5-year mission onboard the ISS National Lab.
- The Spaceborne Computer represents the first long-term demonstration of supercomputing capabilities from a commercial off-the-shelf computer system on the space station.
- HPE’s innovative software-hardening process protected the Spaceborne Computer from high radiation and other extreme conditions in space, allowing it to maintain successful operations.
- The nearly flawless demonstration will benefit both space-based computing as well as computer systems operating in harsh conditions on Earth.
After spending 615 days onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory—orbiting the Earth more than 8,900 times and traveling almost 229 million miles at approximately 17,500 miles per hour—Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) Spaceborne Computer returned to the ground yesterday onboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, wrapping up an exciting and tremendously successful mission.
The Spaceborne Computer launched to the ISS in August of 2017 as the first long-term demonstration of supercomputing capabilities from a commercial off-the-shelf computer system on the space station. During its time in orbit, the Spaceborne Computer ran almost flawlessly, and its successful demonstration will benefit not only space-based computer systems, but also computers that must operate in harsh conditions back on Earth.
Originally planned to remain on the ISS National Lab for one year, the Spaceborne Computer received a six-month extension to its mission due to changes in the ISS cargo schedule. During that time, the Spaceborne Computer was available for use by investigators conducting research onboard the space station, providing valuable in-orbit data processing capabilities.
Computing Through Harsh Conditions
HPE specifically designed the Spaceborne Computer to operate in the harsh environment of space, through use of an innovative software-hardening process that protects the hardware from radiation and other extreme conditions. When radiation levels are high, the software lowers the system’s power, slowing the speed to allow the system to continue to operate correctly.
The goal of the Spaceborne Computer mission was to conduct a long-duration study to observe the computer system’s ability to operate in space, monitoring power consumption and determining the effects of radiation on the system’s performance.
During launch, the Spaceborne Computer reached speeds of 19,000 miles per hour and endured gravitational forces 2.8 times the force of gravity on Earth. While in orbit, the computer traveled through the South Atlantic Anomaly—an area containing high levels of radiation that is problematic for electronic equipment—more than 6,800 times. Evidence also suggests that the Spaceborne Computer was struck by galactic cosmic rays, highly energetic particles that originate from outside of our solar system.
Through all of these harsh conditions, the Spaceborne Computer was able to continue operations, kept functional by the resiliency of the system. The Spaceborne Computer achieved another significant milestone while in orbit: running one teraflop, more than one trillion calculations per second.
During the Spaceborne Computer’s extended mission, NASA Langley’s Entry Descent and Landing team used the computer system to run code in preparation for the use of high-power computing systems for Mars landings. The Spaceborne Computer executed the code more than 2,000 times without a single bit error—a significant achievement.
For the company’s innovative work on the Spaceborne Computer, HPE received the 2018 ISS Innovation Award in Technology Development and Demonstration, presented at the ISS Research and Development Conference. HPE’s Dr. Mark Fernandez, lead engineer for the Spaceborne Computer, also participated in a panel session at the conference, discussing the Spaceborne Computer project and how HPE is continuing to develop innovative technologies for space exploration.
On April 22, HPE powered down the Spaceborne Computer to prepare for its journey back to Earth. ISS crew members, including NASA astronaut Christina Koch, de-installed the system and packed it up for a safe return onboard SpaceX’s Dragon 9 spacecraft—the same vehicle that had brought the Spaceborne Computer to the ISS. Yesterday, Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, and the Spaceborne Computer will return to HPE for further analysis.
“Spaceborne Computer pioneered the use of high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence in space, accelerating humanity’s future missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond,” said Dr. Mark Fernandez, payload software developer for Spaceborne Computer and Americas HPC technology officer at HPE. “After a successful year-long mission, we welcome our hero back to Earth.”