The Dragon Spacecraft is carrying precious cargo in the form of a supercomputer

Why it matters to you

If SpaceX and HP manage to get this supercomputer up and running for a year in space, it could pave the way for missions to Mars.



A supercomputer is about to make its way into space. On August 14, the Dragon Spacecraft from Elon Musk’s high-flying SpaceX will be carrying some very precious cargo. It’s a Hewlett Packard Enterprise supercomputer called the Spaceborne Computer that just may pave the way for further technology in space.

Historically, the harsh conditions of outer space have been tough on computers. Laptops have to be replaced every few months, and off-the-shelf computers have historically fared not so well once leaving Earth’s surface. But the hope is that the supercomputer will do a bit better. After all, if scientists can’t figure out how to get this tech to work beyond Earth’s orbit, it would be difficult for us to actually move beyond our planet in any permanent capacity.

The HPE Spaceborne Computer could be something of a solution. It was built with NASA’s help, and is based upon HPE’s high-density Apollo 40 servers. The hardware runs an unspecified version of Linux, and also employs a custom water-cooled enclosure that ought to keep the computer safe from the tough conditions of space, like radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles, and more.

Scientists hope that the Spaceborn Computer will manage to make it a full year — at least, that’s the amount of time that the machine will be left in orbit. If HPE and NASA manage to prove that the supercomputer can operate smoothly for an extended timeframe in space, it could pave the way for missions to Mars, where having dependable tech is of the utmost importance.

“A mission to Mars will require sophisticated on-board computing resources that are capable of extended periods of uptime,” wrote Alain Andreoli, senior vice president and General Manager at Hewlett Packard’s Data Center Infrastructure Group, in a blog post. “To meet these requirements, we need to improve technology’s viability in space in order to better ensure mission success,” Andreoli said. “By sending a supercomputer to space, HPE is taking the first step in that direction.”

The SpaceX Dragon will launch at 12:31 EST from Cape Canaveral, and you might even be able to watch the takeoff in person should you be in the area. Of course, if you’re unable to make the live viewing, you can check out SpaceX’s YouTube channel instead.
August 13, 2017