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Spaceborne computer set to teraFLOP its way across the Solar System

HPE recently posted an update about their super space computer on their website. 

This is due to the six-month anniversary of the launch of the SpaceX CRS-12 rocket, which carried this high performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system into space. 

And March 14 will mark six months since the system was installed by ISS astronauts and powered on.

The Spaceborne computer is supposedly running like a dream and has even achieved one teraFLOP status, meaning that it can calculate over one trillion calculations per second.

The goal is to operate seamlessly in the harsh conditions of space for one year, which is roughly the amount of time it will take to travel to Mars.

A sophisticated onboard computing system capable of extended periods of uptime will be an essential component for any super-long space missions. 

The near-real-time communications astronauts maintain with Earth,  from the space station, or even the moon, is not possible from Mars. 

If a problem occurred, the latency in delivering a message to Earth and having a response arrive back to the spacecraft could be as much as 40 minutes.

Spaceborne project leader Mark Fernandez says, “That’s just too long when a mission could hang in the balance.

“Our collaboration with NASA to test the efficacy of the Spaceborne Computer in space is a critical step to ensuring the viability and success of a long-range mission before we go, we have to know.”

In the first six months, the system has passed both the multi-node High-Performance LINPACK (HPL) and High-Performance Conjugate Gradients (HPCG) benchmark tests, as well as NASA’s own benchmark. 

The only downtime thus far was a planned, two-hour shutdown while astronauts were replacing an electrical component on another system and a 16-hour unplanned shutdown that occurred in late January due to a smoke detector false alarm. 

As part of standard safety precautions, the electrical power to the computer’s rack had to be immediately cut off. 

That meant that it was not powered down in the recommended manner due to the possibility of this being an emergency.   

However, once NASA determined no emergency had occurred, its staff at the Huntsville Operations Support Center followed HPE’s power-on procedures and returned Spaceborne Computer to its previous state without any issues and no apparent harm. 

For each shutdown, the computer system powered back on just as it was designed to do.

So, the ISS keeps on hurtling through space, and the Spaceborne Computer continues to perform, having completed over 2,700 trips around the world.

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