HPE is sending an SGI computer to space basically to see how if it works. DevOps-style ‘suck-it-and-see’, fail fast.
This supercomputer, called the Spaceborne Computer, is part of a year-long experiment conducted by HPE and NASA to run a high performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system in space, which has never been done before.
In the past, computers required extensive physical modification to meet space requirements. “What requirements” I hear you ask ? Well, they are requirements that we made up using science. We aren’t entirely sure if they are necessary or not:
Though there are no hardware modifications to these components, we created a unique water-cooled enclosure for the hardware and developed purpose-built system software to address the environmental constraints and reliability requirements of supercomputing in space. Generally, in order for NASA to approve computers for space, the equipment needs to be “ruggedized” – or hardened to withstand the conditions in space. Think radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles, micrometeoroids, unstable electrical power, irregular cooling. This physical hardening takes time, money and adds weight, so HPE took a different approach to “harden” the systems with software.
This kind of the “ship it and wait for the tech support calls” is standard practice for Enterprise IT technology.
SpaceX has dramatically lowered the cost of sending payloads to space (see below) and this makes it possible for HPE to make minor modifications to the computer and ship it space for testing. In short, suck it and see how much tech support it needs.
If payload pricing remained high, then it was better economics to spend years in custom design and research to build a computer with a high degree of certainty in space conditions. As the payload price gets cheaper, its possible to ship to perform testing of alternative designs.
And some nice marketing collateral will offset the budget nicely.
Link: HPE Newsroom | Hewlett Packard Enterprise Sends Supercomputer into Space to Accelerate Mission to Mars – https://news.hpe.com/hewlett-packard-enterprise-sends-supercomputer-into-space-to-accelerate-mission-to-mars/
When a Commercial Rocket Blows Up, Who Pays? – Bloomberg Retrieved 14 Aug, 2017