HPE tests gear at the ultimate edge: Space

HPE supercomputer on the International Space Station processes data on site, sorts, and compresses it to save time sending to Earth.

Icons in space

You want edge computing? How about 250 miles straight up? HP Enterprise has announced that the Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2) on the International Space Station (ISS) has successfully completed 24 research experiments in less than a year.

The SBC-2 is the first in-space commercial edge computing and AI-enabled system to run on the ISS, according to HPE, and was installed in May 2021. The experiments involved real-time data processing and testing of new applications to prove reliability in space to increase autonomy for astronauts. HPE said the experiments reduced the time-to-insight from days and months to minutes.

SBC-2 consists of HPE’s Edgeline Converged EL4000 Edge system, which is designed to perform in harsher edge environments, including space. SBC-2 is also made up of the HPE ProLiant DL360 high-performance server designed for workloads like HPC, and AI.

The supercomputer is designed to help astronauts avoid the need to send data down to earth for processing, and just process it in space. This will be especially useful as humans travel beyond Earth orbit to the moon, Mars, and beyond.

For example, HPE described how it previously needed 12.2 hours to transfer 1.8 GB of raw DNA sequence data to Earth for initial processing. With SBC-2, researchers on the ISS could process the same data in just six minutes to find meaningful insights, compress it to 92 KB, and send it to Earth in just two seconds, representing a 20,000X speed-up.

“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,” said Mark Fernandez, principal investigator of Spaceborne Computer-2 at HPE in a statement.

The SBC-2 has also run experiments for researchers developing space exploration capabilities, including Axiom Space, Cornell University, Cumucore, Microsoft, NASA, and Titan Space Technologies.

Other experiments included:

  • Scanning space suits for natural erosion, rips, and cuts, that can present potential safety concerns to rapidly look for signs of damage. If damage is detected, an AI-annotated photo highlighting areas for further review by NASA engineers is generated on the space station and sent to Earth, .
  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) observes Earth from space to study science and climate, as well as support disaster response. Using SBC-2, NASA JPL tested several deep learning inference networks to automatically interpret remotely sensed images.
  • 3D printing in space: together with Cornell University, HPE developed a modelling software that can simulate 3D printing of metal parts and even predict failure and deformation that may result when printing in space.
  • Cumucore, a private mobile network, tested its 5G core network and radio-access network emulators and other features, on SBC-2, to emulate current capabilities on the base station and end-user devices in space. The experiment showed the potential to install 5G capabilities on satellites and spacecraft.
  • HPE opened up SBC-2 to students in India involved in Codewars educational community to create code to calculate how much fuel is needed to go a given distance through space.
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