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HPE offers up progress report on how its space-based supercomputer is performing

Nearly one year on from its deployment, HPE shares details of some of the successful experiments its space-based supercomputer has been involved with

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has confirmed the supercomputer it set live on the International Space Station (ISS) in May 2021 has now successfully completed 24 research experiments, with drastically reduced data processing times.

The HPE Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2) is an edge computing device that was deployed onboard the ISS with the intention of making it possible for researchers to use artificial intelligence (AI) to progress efforts to launch a manned mission to Mars.

The setup is also designed to test out ways that astronauts can bypass the latency issues and wait times that occur when sending data back down to Earth by allowing them to process their data locally instead.

It can also be used to compress the size of the data astronauts send down to Earth, and – in turn – speed up the time it takes to transmit this information to them.

For example, HPE said 1.8 GB of raw DNA sequence data used to take an average time of 12.2 hours to download to Earth for initial processing, but that can now be compressed down to 92KB and send down to Earth in two seconds using SBC-2.  

The experiments SBC-2 has been involved in to-date have required it to process data in real-time, HPE confirmed, and it has also been used to test new applications to assess their reliability when run in space as part of an effort to increase the autonomy of astronauts.

“These experiments spanned use cases supporting healthcare, image processing, natural disaster recovery, 3D printing, 5G, and solutions enabled by artificial intelligence,” said HPE, in a statement.

One of the experiments, conducted in collaboration with Microsoft, focused on using AI-enabled damage detection technology to assess the state of the gloves that astronauts wear while in space, and flag areas of damage to NASA scientists on the ground that might require further analysis.

Another of the experiments centred on the use of 3D printing technology, using validated software, that has the potential to support deep space travel in future by allowing astronauts to repair and build replacement equipment while in orbit.

Mark Fernandez, principal investigator for SBC-2 at HPE, said each of the completed experiments “demonstrates new possibilities for space exploration and milestones for humanity”.

He added: “By introducing edge computing and AI capabilities to the International Space Station with Spaceborne Computer-2, we have helped foster a growing, collaborative research community that shares a common goal to make scientific and engineering breakthroughs that benefit humankind, on space and here on Earth.”  

SBC-2 was officially launched into space in February 2021, ahead of its installation on the ISS in May 2021. As detailed by Computer Weekly at the time of its launch, the microwave-sized device is built around HPE’s Edgeline EL4000 converged edge computing devices and one of its ProLiant DL360 Gen110 appliances. It is set to be in place for up to three years.  

Read more about HPE’s work on the International Space Station 

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