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Spaceborne Computer 2 – one small step in the world of cloud computing

Hewlett Packard Co. and Microsoft have joined hands in creating the Spaceborne Computer 2, an International Space Station computer combining two wonderful technologies: cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence.

This is HP’s second Spaceborne computer that, according to PrinterHeadlines.com, has twice the computational power of its predecessor.

What is the Spaceborne Computer 2?

Spaceborne is an HP product connected to the Azure Space Platform, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform.

The computer uses HP’s Edgeline Converged Edge System which is designed to operate in “rigorous and harsh environments” and perform edge computing at teraflop speeds. Basically, it is a supercomputer in space. 

HP has worked hard to distinguish this computer from its predecessor, the Spaceborne Computer-1. The purpose of the computer is to collect data and turn it into insights in real-time.

According to Mark Fernandez, Principal Investigator of the Spaceborne Computer-2 project,

“after collecting that data, we must process it or turn it into information and insight. And the faster we can do that, the faster we get our results and the better things are.” 

The Spaceborne-2 uses free energy from solar power. The freezing temperatures in space also take care of the cooling. Thus, this is the most energy-efficient computer in space apart from being the fastest and smartest.

The computer was launched from Earth in February 2021 aboard the 15th Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo aircraft. The cygnus NG-15 mission was launched by an Antares rocket from NASA’s facility in Virginia.

The computer is now circling around the International Space Station (ISS) and is expected to be there for 2-3 years. 

What Does the Spaceborne Computer 2 Do?

Image: Orbital Assembly Corporation

The Spaceborne computer will aid in and accelerate space exploration. It will help with in-space data processing and analysis.

This will help astronauts and researchers process data in real-time, increasing their self-sufficiency as well as helping with making space exploration easy using advanced technology. 

The computer will also speed time-to-insights from months to minutes on the various experiments conducted in space.

This will unlock key insights from volumes of satellites, cameras, as well as remote sensors. In short, it is making computing more reliable in space.

The Spaceborne 2 is also equipped with Graphic Processing Units (GPUs). This will be useful in processing data that is image intensive- especially ones that require a higher image resolution.

For example, images of polar ice caps on earth. The computer cuts down on the long wait times needed to send data back and forth to earth while doing research from the ISS. 

amazon callisto ai in space
Image: Amazon

Apart from this, the computer will be conducting several experiments. Some of them include the following:

  • Monitor astronauts’ physiological conditions in real-time. It will process X-rays, sonograms, and other medical data to speed up the time taken to get a diagnosis in space. It is also capable of analyzing astronaut DNA!
  • Processing high-resolution imagery of storms and tornadoes and sending the data down to earth in the form of simple information. This will help with disaster prevention and mitigation by telling first responders the path of the tornado or where the forest fire is. This also includes measuring air quality and traffic trends among others. 

These massive volumes of data require a significant amount of bandwidth to process and send down. The Spaceborne computer simply makes this process easier.

  • Weather modeling of dust storms to enable future modeling for Mars missions. 
  • Plant and hydroponics analysis can be used to support food growth and life sciences by growing plants in space itself.

With the help of the Azure cloud computing, these processed data will be sent back and forth to Earth in a very short amount of time. It is also capable of recovering from a complete failure in space in just 30 seconds with no loss of data.

 Challenges With Space-Based Computing

One of the main challenges is packaging the computer and actually getting it to the ISS. Next comes the power, cooling, and networking. The ISS often doesn’t have connectivity multiple times a day, making networking unstable.

Another issue is that space-based applications continually demand more resources, simply because we want the insights faster which needs more power. However, despite the challenges, the Spaceborne-2 has been working wonderfully so far!

The Spaceborne computer-2 is indeed a supercomputer and reduces the limits that existed for conducting research and analysis in space. By computing the results in orbit, astronauts and space researchers will now be able to think big and do big.

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