Computing at the edge of space: HPE, Microsoft conduct first International Space Station experiments

The International Space Station as seen from a departing Soyuz spacecraft. (NASA Photo)

You would get a new provider if your phone went off 17 times per day for between 1 second and 20 minutes. This is what the International Space Station astronauts are experiencing, though they do not have this option.

This is how Mark Fernandez from Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, (HPE), explains the current state of communication between Earth and the ISS — it’s the reason he’s so excited to have a computer aboard.

Fernandez was the principal investigator of HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2 (launched to orbit in February).

He explained that “the communications continuity for space station” is fragile. We need to give [astronauts] more autonomy. Spaceborne Computer-2 board not only boosts their confidence but also increases their capacity to resolve their own problems, without having to rely on Earth.

The International Space Station is an exceptional case study in edge computing. This refers to the idea of moving storage and processing closer the data source to increase speed and decrease bandwidth required for cloud computing.

Tom Keane stated, “We are seeing more situations move to the edges, and that’s changing how developers think about how they write applications and how they view bandwidth and the scarcity thereof.”MicrosoftAzurecorporate vice president. “And space, of course, gives you a great understanding.”

For Microsoft, the project is part of a larger effort called Azure Space that also includes partnerships with SpaceX and others.

Spaceborne Computer-2 by HPE uses components and servers off-the shelf, protected with hardware that is designed to withstand harsh environments. Microsoft and HPE worked in partnership to link Spaceborne Computer-2 with Azure orbit, enabling advanced artificial intelligence applications from the ISS.

Spaceborne Computer-2 (HPE Image)

To ensure others have the opportunity to contribute or improve on their methods in the future, they are using open-source and standard tools like Python and Linux containers.

On Wednesday, the companies revealed that their first experiments were completed. The experiments ranged from a successful message of hello to the world to testing a potato grown in zero gravity onboard the ISS to help better understand its causes.

The big test has yet to be completed: an extensive analysis of the astronaut genomes in search of new insights about the effects of prolonged stays in space on our bodies.

Raw data can be hundreds of gigabytes in size, making it impossible to send them under these circumstances. Spaceborne Computer-2 has two hours per week to download data from the ISS. This is in addition to an aging system which uses Tracking and Data Relay Satellites to link to Earth base stations.

Instead of using software from Microsoft, they packaged the program into Linux containers and processed astronaut genomes with Spaceborne Computer-2. They then sent details of mutations to Earth for analysis against National Institutes of Health databases, and generated the results.

Fernandez stated, “That’s just a brief message to let us know that we have the ability to return to space station.” It took weeks or even months to download the genome before, but now it takes just minutes after we have processed at edge.

According to the companies, they have completed four experiments thus far with another four in progress and 29 others planned. Spaceborne Computer-2 will be utilized for research at the ISS for a period of two to three more years.

Time is of the essence: Congress has authorized the ISS budget through 2024, but even if the budget is extended, it’s not expected to go beyond 2030.

Publiated at Wed 18 August 2021, 14:30:51 +0000

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