NASA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise To Test Spaceborne Computer To Withstand Space Radiation

When SpaceX’s latest cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) lifts off Monday, among the rest of its payload will be something that has possible ramifications for future long-term space travel: an experiment to design computers that are resistant, if not immune, to the effects of radiation in space.

Called Spaceborne Computer (SBC), the year-long experiment is a joint effort between NASA and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. It is a supercomputer which HPE has developed for the space agency “to run a high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer system in space,” according to a statement the company sent to International Business Times. “The goal is for the system to operate seamlessly in the harsh conditions of space for one year – roughly the amount of time it will take to travel to Mars,” it added.

This kind of an experiment is important because “radiation is likely to have a number of unanticipated effects on complex computer systems. This experiment helps identify critical failure points in electronic systems, as well as potential software ‘patches’ that can prevent them,” according to NASA. Closer home, it has potential applications on Earth as well, where radiation events like solar flares can endanger computer systems.

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Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert “Bob” Thirsk, Expedition 20 Flight Engineer, sets up the A31p for the Iris experiment in the Destiny Laboratory on board the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

On its website, NASA said the experiment will help devise ways to use software to protect the computers aboard ISS and future spacecraft without the need for bulky, expensive shielding for protection from radiation.

“One of the goals of the experiment is to find a set of software parameters that allow the COTS supercomputer to continue to function and produce correct results in the harsh environment of space.  To clarify, nothing at all has…

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