HPE's updated Spaceborne Computer-2 ready to hitch another ride to the ISS

How's low Earth orbit for the edge?

An updated version of HPE's Spaceborne Computer-2 is set to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) this week.

It is the third launch of HPE supercomputing hardware to the ISS. The first unit went up in 2017 as part of a year-long experiment to see how the kit would fare onboard the ISS. Aside from a few wobbles – corrected in software – the Spaceborne Computer returned to Earth in 2019 following a highly successful mission.

At the time, HPE's Dr Eng Lim Goh told The Register that the hardware used was pretty much off the shelf, with inverters provided by NASA to keep AC power flowing. Redundant hardware meant that the computer kept running despite one of the four power supplies failing and nine of the 20 SSDs encountering issues.

Spaceborne Computer-2 was launched in 2021, with DC power instead of AC and both software and hardware RAID configurations for the SSDs, alongside the processing improvements one would expect from a few years of hardware evolution.

For the updated Spaceborne Computer-2 to be launched this week, extra flash memory storage has been added to the commercial off-the-shelf supercomputer based on HPE EdgeLine and Proliant servers. The addition is to test storage and recovery on long-term space missions. There are hopes that the system will be used on NASA's missions to the Moon and Mars.

Mark Fernandez, principal investigator for HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, said: "The Spaceborne Computer has the potential to not only accelerate data processing in space but also speed up the exchange of data insights between Earth and space." The hope is that the extra power on tap will also bolster the application of AI and machine learning on the ISS.

The previous iteration of the Spaceborne Computer-2 demonstrated the use of Microsoft's Azure for processing. Missions beyond low Earth orbit will not have such ready access to cloud computing, hence the need for more processing capability at the edge.

The update is scheduled for launch in Northrop Grumman's NG-20 Cygnus spacecraft from Space Launch Complex 40 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on January 29. NASA plans to operate the ISS through 2030, with de-orbit following shortly after. Considering the schedule to date, this could well be the last time HPE hardware visits the outpost.

However, with missions to the Moon coming up and a gateway station set to be assembled in a near-rectilinear orbit around the Moon, there is plenty of scope for edge computing beyond low Earth orbit. ®

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