SpaceX Technologies, an aerospace firm founded and led by Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, is set to launch a supercomputer into space Monday as part of a resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). The computer was built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (NYSE: HPE) and has been dubbed the “Spaceborne Computer.”
The launch is part of a year-long experiment by NASA and Hewlett Packard to determine whether what is basically an off-the-shelf high-performance computer can survive the rigors of space for a full year. Coincidentally, a year is about the amount of time it would take a manned spacecraft to reach Mars.
Typically when NASA wants to send a computing device into space, the device must be modified and hardened which takes time and money. As a result, computers sent into space are often generations behind devices available on Earth.
Computing chores that can’t be handled by on-board devices have to be packaged up and sent back to earth where the programs are executed and the results sent back to the ISS. This is not a huge concern at present because communications between the ISS and Earth are nearly instantaneous. Using the same technology would mean a delay of 20 minutes for a spacecraft traveling near Mars.
The only modification to the Spaceborne Computer is “software hardening,” the inclusion of software that is able to detect and fix certain conditions that may cause the computer to malfunction.
The Spaceborne Computer will be carried aloft by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the first test of its capability is expected to occur around September 4 when scientists on the ISS boot up the device.